Can I opt to break my lease early because we’re filing protective order on neighbor?

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Can I opt to break my lease early because we’re filing protective order on neighbor?

My neighbor was drunk and attacked my dog and boyfriend on our way to our apartment. We’re in tje process of getting a protection order against him. I just renewed a 1-year lease that starts in next month and want to know if I have legal right to break my lease because the offender lives 2 doors down. I’m pregnant and have 6-year old daughter. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt unsafe due to the “crazy” weirdos in the area but it’s never been violent before. I don’t want to live here anymore; I’m waiting for next drunk to do it again possibly to me or my kids. Does the landlord have the right to deny me a move and force the offender to move instead?

Asked on September 14, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Washington

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

1) You can only terminate a lease without penalty (e.g. without holding you liable for the full remaining rent due under the lease, for the balance of the lease term) for something the *landlord* does wrong. However, a landlord is not obligated to let a tenant out of the lease for the actions of a third party, even another tenant--after all, it's not the landlord's fault. There is an exception, if the landlord does not take reasonable steps to curb repetitive or ongoing behavior within the building affecting you; see below.

2) The above said, you may be able to make the landlord evict this other person IF the actions repeat; if a tenant disturbs the peace and quiet enjoyment of other tenants, that can consitute grounds for eviction. The problem is, the landlord must first serve a Notice to Cease, or a warning that the tenant may be evicted if the behavior repeats. Therefore, it's not until after a Notice has been served and there are other problems can the landlord evict.

3) Landlords must take reasonable steps to protect their tenants' rights to quiet enjoyment of their premises. This includes taking steps, as per 2), above, if someone else in the building is threateng or disturbing their peace. If the landlord refuses to issue a Notice to Cease against another tenant who attacked you within the building, that may provide grounds to terminate the lease, though you should consult with an attorney first before doing anything, to avoid potentially incurring liability.

Note that if the attack occured outside the landlord's premises (e.g. on the street in front of the building), then the landlord can't take action; he or she cannot control what tenants do off premises.


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