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Can I Break My Lease If I Don't Feel Safe?

Depending on your situation, there may be laws that protect you in a dangerous rental situation. Here’s how to approach breaking a lease if you feel at risk in your home.

So, you just moved into a new apartment. Maybe the neighborhood seemed a little sketchy, or the landlord a bit creepy, but the rent was cheap and you took the deal. Now, unfortunately, you realize you’ve made a mistake—you don’t feel safe in your own home. What, if anything, can you do to remove yourself from a dangerous situation? Here are some general guidelines to approach ending a lease early and avoiding fees, if possible.

Can I negotiate a lease break if I feel unsafe?

Yes, a landlord and a tenant can always make a joint decision to end a lease early. So if you feel unsafe in your rental, start by talking to your landlord. Be as detailed as possible—let them know exactly why you don’t feel secure and why it would be in their best interest to allow you to move out early.

Many landlords don’t want to invest time and money into a court proceeding, and may prefer negotiating a lease break rather than fighting a tenant in court. This may require some give and take on your part, however. In many cases, the landlord may want you to pay a fee. Regardless, a compromise with your landlord is often the easiest way to terminate a lease. (You can also consider other options for getting out of your lease early, including subletting or assigning.)

What if my neighborhood is dangerous?

No laws, anywhere in the United States, specifically allow tenants to terminate their lease based on the condition of a surrounding neighborhood. That said, landlords have certain legal responsibilities that involve safety. These duties are covered by the implied warranty of habitability, a legal concept that requires landlords to keep their rental units in livable condition.

Generally, either the warranty of habitability or specific state laws will require landlords to keep all locks—both to a building and to an individual apartment—in good working order.1 Broken windows and doors must be fixed. If non-residents are entering a building without permission from a tenant, that is a huge problem (and almost certainly a breach of the warranty of habitability).

If your building is unsafe for one of these reasons—and the landlord won't make repairs after being informed of the issue in writing and given a reasonable amount of time to do so—a tenant may be able to terminate their lease altogether. But each state will be different, and you should review your own state’s laws to understand your rights.

What if my neighbors are making me feel unsafe?

Landlords may also be required to protect tenants from other tenants. If a fellow renter is threatening you or is engaging in illegal activity, such as selling drugs, you should inform your landlord. In some states, if a landlord fails to put an end to the illegal or threatening behavior, it's considered a breach of the warranty of habitability—and may allow you to terminate your lease.2 Of course, this only applies if the neighbors are also your landlord's tenants. Your landlord isn't responsible for the conduct of neighbors living on adjoining private property.

What if my landlord is making me feel unsafe?

The possibility of a landlord or building superintendent being a threat is a true nightmare for renters. If this happens to you, take immediate action. Many state laws allow a tenant to break a lease immediately, with no questions asked, if the tenant is the victim of certain crimes, including stalking and harassment—including New York and Texas.

To take advantage of these legal protections, you’ll generally need to provide proof of an incident with your landlord. This may be a court record, such as an order of protection, or simply the statement of a victim advocate. Prioritize your safety. If you feel threatened in your home, you likely have options under state law to terminate your lease quickly and without penalty.

If a landlord is sexually harassing you, you may also be able to file a complaint under the Fair Housing Act, a federal law that protects tenants from discrimination.

[1] Yonkers Garden Co. v. New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, New York, May 8, 1978

[2] Auburn Leasing Corp. v. Burgos, Civil Court, City of New York, Queens County, Trial Term, Part 4

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.