CanI get back my deposit ifI broke my lease becauseI was in fear of my life?

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CanI get back my deposit ifI broke my lease becauseI was in fear of my life?

I broke my lease and moved out 5 months early because my house was broken into and the manager knew who it was (my tenants below me). I am a security guard and I have had problems with these people before at work. I let my manager know about the situation. They said the only way I can go is if I break my lease. However, I am a single mom; 2 little girls and pregnant. These other tenants would threaten me. What should I do now; this is affecting my credit.

Asked on October 17, 2011 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

If the threat was external to the building--i.e. the neighborhood had become dangerous; you had a former significant other who lived elsewhere but who was harassing or stalking you--then you would have no right to terminate the lease early and could be held liable for the rent for the remaining balance of the lease term. In that case, the landlord could retain your security deposit to apply it against the unpaid rent.

However, if the threat was from tenants in the building, and you had put the landlord or manager on notice of the threat, then the situation may be different. All landlords (and therefore their property mangers) have obligations to make sure that premises are fit for  their intended purpose (e.g. residence) and also prevent tenants from being disturbed in their "quiet enjoyment" (or use of) their leased space. Security threats which are at least partially under the landlord's control can violate these obligations; that potentially includes threats from a tenant, since the landlord could take steps (e.g. eviction) against a tenant who threatens others. Therefore, if the landlord knew of these situation and did nothing, it may be that you were "constructively evicted," or forced out by the landlord's action or inaction, and therefore entitled to terminate the lease early without penalty and get your security deposit back. If the landlord would not return your deposit, you may be able to sue him to get it back; you might also be able to sue him for a court order requiring him to *not* report you as in breach of your lease, and to correct any such reports he has made. You should ideally discuss this situation in detail with an attorney. If you cannot afford one, try contacting Legal Services.


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