Under what laws can I break my lease if I feel my apartment is unsafe?

The break-in occurred 4 days ago. The robber broke into my place and cut through the drywall of my bedroom and robbed my neighbors place as well. The landlords have been notified but they still haven’t fixed my door nor have they fixed the drywall in my apartment. There are sensor lights outside the building but none of them have been replaced with new bulbs. There are no security cameras around the building. There is no security period.

Asked on June 28, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Virginia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

The implied warranty of habitability is the obligation on landlords to provide premises that are fit for their intended purpose--i.e. safe to live in. In regards to security, this is not an absolute requirement--the aapartment does not need to be as secure as  bank vault--but is judged by a standard of "reasonableness." That is, what is reasonable for the landlord to be required to do. For matters like a security guard, cameras, lights, etc., the quick rule of thumb is that if the landlord is doing what landlords of similar buildings in the same or similar areas are doing, then he is probably meeting his obligation.

That said, not fixing a door that was broken into (if it is no longer secure; e.g. broken lock or hinges) or drywall that was cut through to another apartment is clearly unreasonable and could provide grounds to terminate the lease. You would first need to provide written notice of the problems and a request they be fixed; if the landlord does not fix them within a reasonable time after (which is probably only a matter of a few days, for conditions like this), you would likely have grounds to terminate you lease. If possible, though, consult in person with a landlord-tenant attorney before doing so, since terminating a lease improperly could lead to you facing some liability to the landlord.

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