What can a tenant do if their belongings were stolen from a common area?

UPDATED: Sep 19, 2011

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What can a tenant do if their belongings were stolen from a common area?

I live in a shared house, month-to-month, with 6 other people. I left my computer, backpack, and phone on the dining room table. Some time during the night someone came into the house and stole them. I do not have renter’s insurance. Is there any way that I can sat that the house was not safe (the front door was left unlocked) and make a claim for money, reduction in rent, or something to offset my losses?

Asked on September 19, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Washington


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

No, unfortunately there probably is no way you could do this. The short answer is, you can only make a claim or file a lawsuit against someone, like your landlord, if that person is at fault. In the case you describe, it is very likely that your landlord is NOT at fault--with 6 other people living there, the odds are very, very high that your items were stolen by a housemate, a guest of the housemate, a contractor or vendor of a housemate (e.g. the pizza delivery guy they let in, then turned their back on to get money), or due to a housemate's negligence (e.g. a housemate leaving the front door wide open or unlocked--which again, is not necessarily the landlord's fault, not with so many people there). Even if the loss was not due to a housemate's action or negligence--or simple B&E by a third-party--it is hard to imagine how you would prove it is in any way the landlord's fault. And without fault, there is no liability. Should you ever discover that a housemate was involved, you could certainly sue him/her. And you may wish to get renter's insurance for the future--people get it specifically for situations like this, when there is no one to claim against.

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