How canI break my lease early?

Someone entered our apartment while we were on vacation. A key was used because there was no sign of forced entry. Things were damaged. My main concern, however is how to get out of my lease. The rental company confirmed that locks are not changed after a tenant leaves. However, my upstairs neighbor confirmed that the previous tenants (prior to us moving in) had entered the apartment when vacant. So the landlord would have known that keys were floating out there. What can we do?

Asked on October 27, 2011 under Real Estate Law, North Carolina


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

If the landlord does not now, open demand, change locks, when the evidence is that there is an illicit copy of the key out there and its been used to rob you, you may have grounds to terminate the lease. That's because providing certain minimum or reasonable security is an expectation in a lease, and a failure  to do so can consitute a violation of the implied warranty of habitability. However, you'd have to give the landlord a chance to correct this situation, so you need to provide a written notice of the problem and a request to correct it, as well as some time (a week or two? whatever is reasonable to get locks changed) to take care of it. Only when there is a refusal to correct a situation affecting the habitability, safety, etc. of a premise might that rise to allowing termination of the lease.

Note thought that since breaking a lease improperly can lead to you beiing liable to the landlord for all the remaining rent for the full remaining balance of the lease, you should consult with an attorney and let the lawyer help you resolve this situation.

If you can show that the landlord knew or should have known that there was an extraneous set of keys out there and did nothing, you may be able to hold the landlord liable for your losses. This is something else to discuss with your lawyer.

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