Q: Can I break my apartment lease early if I feel unsafe in the unit?
Breaking apartment leases early is always a sticky situation. Although there are many valid reasons that allow you to leave your unit without penalties, this may not be one of them.
In the case of breaking your lease because of safety issues, there are a variety of factors that get taken into consideration. Let's go over what those are.
What determines a tenant's feeling of insecurity when attempting to terminate their lease early?
First thing's first. What circumstances define whether a tenant is unsafe?
Landlords will factor in the following:
1. What is making the tenant feel unsafe?
2. Is the landlord to blame for the tenant feeling unsafe?
3. Is there a justifiable reason as to why the person is feeling unsafe? (ie. other people would also feel unsafe in the same situation)
4. Has the landlord done anything to solve the tenant's feeling of insecurity?
5. Is the feeling of insecurity a result of a tenant's disability- recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act? Has the landlord made reasonable accommodations to mitigate the issue at hand?
In what case is "feeling unsafe" a justifiable reason for breaking a lease?
The truth is, there's no definite answer that can say whether your feeling of insecurity will get you out of a lease early. Every case, landlord, and circumstance is unique. However, we can form generalized answers based on other tenants' past experiences.
It's important to note that the outcome of the situation may pan out differently depending on your relationship with your landlord. Your landlord may be more compassionate towards your situation if you've been a responsible and polite tenant. Building a good relationship with your landlord may also help your case.
With that being said, let's go over different scenarios that may lead to a tenant wanting to terminate their lease early.
1) You feel unsafe because of the neighborhood
If you want to move out because you don't feel secure living in your neighborhood, we would suggest you talk to your landlord. Many will be compassionate towards your situation and let you off unscathed.
However, other landlords won't be so forgiving. This especially rings true if your landlord has provided additional security measures to ensure the building is safe. This would be like having secured doors, good locks, barred windows, security cameras, etc. In this case, the landlord may not care that you feel unsafe since they've taken the appropriate steps to secure the building.
Additionally, it would be your due diligence to have researched the neighborhood before moving to the area. So, many landlords won't take this as a proper excuse to break your lease early.
That being said, some landlords will compromise with you. They'll let you out of your lease early, but with a cost. They may require you to pay an early rent termination fee or might keep your entire security deposit.
In the best-case scenario, the landlord will be forgiving and let you get out of your lease without penalty.
2) You feel unsafe because of a person in your building (neighbor, roommate, or landlord)
If someone in your proximity is putting you in danger, we would suggest you move out immediately. Worry about your lease later. Although it may be a hassle, you should always prioritize your safety over anything else.
As long as the danger is clear and presents a risk to your wellbeing or safety, then most landlords will side with your decision to end your lease early.
Now, if the danger is coming from within your building, know that your landlord has a duty to solve the issue at hand. Failure to do so would imply that they're breaching the warranty of habitability for you.
If the danger is coming from someone who resides outside of your building, you may still have a case. However, it gets a little more complicated now that your landlord isn't responsible for solving the issue.
You should start by explaining the situation to your landlord. Again, the best-case scenario is that they let you vacate your apartment, free of charge.
A neutral outcome would be if they let you move out but made you pay additional fees.
The worst-case scenario would be if you refused to pay anything and simply moved out. Then, your landlord could take you to court for unpaid charges and breaking your lease early.
3) You feel unsafe because of structural or apartment issues
These claims should be taken very seriously. Under the Landlord-Tenant Law, your landlord has to make your living place habitable and safe.
If you've encountered structural or apartment issues, you should notify your landlord immediately. Examples of these types of issues include:
▪️ Stairs, floors, walls, or roofs are in danger of imminent collapse
▪️ The front door won't lock properly, or windows don't fully close
▪️ You have no running water, heating, electricity, or other utilities needed to survive
▪️ There is a severe mold problem in the apartment causing health issues and concerns
If you're battling any of these issues, make sure you take pictures and videos of everything.
Unfortunately, many landlords ignore the issues and decide it's not a problem they want to take care of. If this happens, your landlord is violating their obligation to provide a habitable home for you. This would be a justifiable reason to terminate your lease.
As long as you have proof to back up your claim, it would be in your right to end your lease if these issues put you in imminent danger.
Your landlord could still fight you on this, but you would have a strong case if both parties went to court.
Key tips when breaking a lease early
1) Communicate, communicate, communicate. Your landlord can't read your mind. It's best to let them know exactly what's going on so they can decide whether they should let you leave your apartment early. Most landlords will be compassionate towards your worries and qualms when you paint them the entire picture.
2) State laws vary. In a perfect world, we would have one well-constructed answer to give you. However, every situation is received differently because of state and local landlord-tenant laws. Do your research, speak to legal professionals, and learn your rights.
3) Have proof of everything. You may not end up needing this proof, but it acts as the backup you may need. Written, verbal, or visual evidence is particularly important if your case makes its way to court. You can't support your claims with only your story.
4) Feeling unsafe is subjective. This claim will be interpreted differently depending on what the situation is and who you're dealing with. If you're trying to end your lease early because of feelings of insecurity, make sure the landlord can't fix the problem, and the situation is putting you in imminent danger. Be reasonable and pay any additional fees required to get out of your lease early.
I hope I was somewhat able to answer your question. The truth is, only a legal professional with all the details would be able to give you a direct answer to your question.
If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us at Lighthouse. For those in search of a new apartment, don't miss out on the opportunity to get cash back on your next lease. Earn up to $1,200 back and get personalized assistance throughout your apartment search from one of our Lightkeepers. Find out how to get started here.