An apartment break-in can be a terrifying and traumatic experience. Crime in your apartment doesn't always entitle you to break your lease, though. Instead, you'll have to demonstrate that the break-in was directly related to the landlord's negligence and that such negligence constituted a material breach of your lease. Even if you have a strong case, you could still end up litigating the issue in court.
Breaking a Lease
Your lease is a legally binding contract. Consequently, you can only break the lease if you follow the specific steps outlined in the lease, or if you can demonstrate that the landlord breached the lease first. For example, if your landlord guaranteed you a safe apartment or if he promised door locks that you did not have, this would constitute a material breach. Your lease may still require that you send your landlord notice that you intend to break it. Otherwise, you could be stuck paying fees to end your lease.
Premises liability is the liability of a property owner for crimes that occur on the property. In many cases, an apartment management company will be legally liable for a burglary that occurs on the property, but such liability won't necessarily entitle you to break the lease unless you can demonstrate that the burglary somehow violated your contract. Instead, you can sue your landlord to recover your damages. You might be able to negotiate a settlement with your landlord in which you agree not to sue in return for being permitted to break your lease early.
Notifying Your Landlord
If you believe that the burglary violates your lease, you need to notify your landlord in writing prior to moving out. Itemize the specific ways in which the lease was violated. For example, if a maintenance person went to your home without your permission and then left the doors unlocked, this might be a violation. Your letter can serve as evidence if your landlord tries to sue you for breaking your lease. Send the letter via certified mail, return receipt requested. If your lease requires that you give specific notice a certain amount of time prior to breaking your lease, send your letter in this time frame.
Potential for Litigation
If your landlord disagrees with your decision to break your lease, the decision could be left to a judge. Your landlord can sue you for terminating your lease early. If this happens, it's a wise idea to hire a lawyer. You'll need to present evidence of the burglary -- such as police reports and photos -- as well as evidence of how the burglary violated your lease. If you allege that the burglary was due to your landlord's negligence in a counter-suit, you'll also need to provide specific evidence of how your landlord was negligent.
- Forbes: When Should You Break a Lease?
- Nolo: Breaking a Lease and Leaving Early
- FindLaw: Premises Liability -- Who Is Responsible?
- Justia: Premises Liability
- Georgia Consumer Protection Division. "If I Terminate My Lease Early, Can My Landlord Keep My Security Deposit and Charge Me a Fee?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Oregon State Bar. "Fees and Deposits." Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Wisconsin State Legislature. "704.29 Recovery of Rent and Damages by Landlord; Mitigation." Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Realtor.com®. "Beyond the Security Deposit: When Can Your Landlord Sue You for Property Damage?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- The Judicial Branch of California. "Security Deposits." Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Updater. "Breaking a Lease: Everything to Know." Accessed April 6, 2020.
- New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. "Lease Information Bulletin," Page 3. Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Could Late Rent Payments or Problems With a Landlord Be in My Credit Report?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Experian. "Does Breaking a Lease Affect Your Credit?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Experian. "How Long Does It Take for Information to Come Off Your Credit Reports?" Accessed April 6, 2020.
- New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. "Lease Information Bulletin," Page 2. Accessed April 6, 2020.
- Michigan Department of Attorney General. "Other Legal Protections and Rights Provided By State And Federal Law." Accessed Apr. 23, 2020.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.