Can I get out of my lease if there are safety concerns?

Cops come to my neighbors apartment a lot and there are fights every weekend. I have kids and I don’t feel safe living there anymore. Can we move out without penalty?

Asked on October 23, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Ohio

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

A lease is a contract. Like any other contract, as a general matter, you can only get out of it if the other party to the contract doesn't live up to his or obligations in some way; the other party's breach, if it's of an important, or material term, then allows you to terminate. However, the other party is not responsible for events beyond his or her control, except in special cases where the outside events prohibit that party from honoring its obligations. (E.g. if a hurricane or fire destroys the building, then the landlord can longer provide an apartment to you; you can generally terminate the lease in that case.) In the situation you describe, since the neighbor is a also a tenant of the landlord, you *may* have grounds to terminate the lease--you are having your right to "quiet enjoyment" destroyed by another tenant, who is a person at least partially under the landlord's control (landlords can evict tenants who destroy the quiet enjoyment of their fellow tenants).

That does not mean you can just leave immediately, however; you have to at least provide the landlord written notice of the condition or problem, and a reasonable chance to take action. It also must be the case that the neighbors' actions are destroying your quiet enjoyment--if there is just sporadic noise, but no threats made to you, no criminal activity directed to you, etc., it's not clear the conduct is bad enough to justify termination. Since so much depends on the specific facts and on you taking action in the  prior way, you should consult in detail with an attorney about this situation. Good luck.


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