Do I have a right terminate my lease if I do not feel safe living in my apartment?

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Do I have a right terminate my lease if I do not feel safe living in my apartment?

Recently our apartment building caught on fire. It was started because the tenants downstairs did not extinguish a cigarette and it caught the side of the building on fire. It was only a few minutes from burning through the way and into our apartment cutting off our main exit. The apartment said that since there is no legal ordinance to regulate smoking or butt cans, they can do nothing further than to urge tenants to be careful. I would like to know what are my rights? What are my rights as a concerned tenant after a fire?  

Asked on July 13, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Indiana

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, a right to terminate a lease without penalty (e.g. without paying the remaining rent due for the balance of the lease term) only comes into play if it's something the *landlord* is doing which affects safety or habitability. You can't terminate a lease legally due to dangers posed by other people; for example, if your building were in a very bad neighborhood, the threat of crime or violence would not let you terminate your lease.

If the building is supposed to be a non-smoking building, that might give you grounds to either force the landlord to take action against the other tenants or let you out of the lease, for violation of the non-smoking terms; if there are fire code violations (e.g. not enough smoke or fire detectors, inadequate fire proofing), that may also give you grounds for some action, such as getting out of the lease or forcing the landlord to correct problems.

But if the problem is "only" other tenants' actions, the most that could possibly be done is that the landlord may be able to either evict them for damaging the landlord's property, or at at least provide them a notice to not do this again (e.g. not be careless with cigarettes) and evict them then if they do. However, it is the landlord who must do this; while you might be able to force the landlord to do so, under the rubric that your right to quiet enjoyment is being infringed upon by the other tenants, and thefore the landlord must take action, it is very difficult to make the landlord take action in a case like this if the landlord is disinclined. However, since it *may* be possible, if you feel strongly enough, you might want to consult with a landlord-tenant law attorney about whether you can compel the landlord to take action against the other tenants, even though it's very unlikely that you can safely terminate your own lease. Good luck.


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