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posted: 3/17/2013 4:56 AM

Roommates want to break lease following break-in

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Q. Our apartment was recently burglarized. The landlord hasn't done anything to make my roommates and me feel safer, and we fear our apartment will be burglarized again. We would like to move out, but still have six months left on our lease. Do you have any suggestions?

A. Your landlord is responsible for providing a functional apartment, which includes working doors and windows and any and all locks or safety devices as required by state and local codes. But your landlord is not the guarantor of your possessions, and you are responsible for acting reasonably and responsibly to protect your own property. The first goal should be to work with your landlord to minimize the chance that there will be any further criminal acts at your rental property.

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You may want to also contact your local law enforcement and ask them for any tips or suggestions that they might have to deter crime. You will need to make sure you are committed to any suggestions such as timers on lights or keeping doors and windows closed and locked. But also be sure to pass along any information to your landlord that he would need to implement, such as changes to existing exterior lighting or landscaping or access to the property.

It is always a good idea in multifamily residential properties to alert all tenants to the concerns and ask everyone to be alert.

You can contact a local landlord-tenant legal expert to see if you have any basis for breaking your lease, but generally you won't unless your landlord has breached the lease in a material way. However, if the landlord has failed to provide you with a rental unit that is code compliant and is unwilling to work with you on crime prevention, you may have grounds to unilaterally break the lease, but you should be prepared to prove that in court if the landlord takes a different view and sues you for the rent due on the remaining term of your lease.

Another option is to simply see if your landlord is willing to let you out of your lease.

Q. I have a townhouse in the city, which I've been renting to a family for about 10 years. Every so often the plumbing would break. That means perhaps a year after we have one item in the toilet fixed, something else breaks on it. The same problem goes for one of the showers, the faucet in the kitchen, etc.

I feel the family who lives there does not take care of the house, nor do they even care at all. Due to all the problems with the plumbing, most likely drips or leakage, the water bill shot up. They do nothing to notify me or make any attempts to fix it.

Though I make a good effort to fix everything, new problems seem to arise every so often that do not happen with the other properties I rent out long term. Are the tenants responsible for making sure things are in the same good working condition as when they moved in?

A. No, the tenants are required to keep the rental property reasonably clean and should not misuse the property by acting or using any portion of the property in a manner that is not what is intended. But your tenants are not responsible to make sure everything works just as it did when they moved in, as even with normal usage there will be some things that will break and need repair or replacement.

The tenants should take steps to preserve the property and not incur excessive damage, and you have the security deposit to encourage the reasonable use of your property. Under most standard landlord-tenant leases or rental agreements, as well as the laws of most states, you as the landlord are responsible for the proper maintenance and repair of the rental property. The only exception is if you have a specific agreement that requires the tenant to assume responsibility for some specific item. The most common might be the landscaping or pool or spa maintenance for a rental home, but not basic plumbing.

You question the need for more plumbing repairs at this one rental property versus the others that you own. Rather than complain that this one tenant (of 10 years!) is calling you for repairs, I would be worried about your other long-term tenants who may not be telling you about some important needed repairs.

Plumbing is one of the best examples of small issues that can quickly become large, expensive problems if repairs aren't done quickly. Your concern about the rising water bill may be the result of higher rates or higher usage. Higher usage could be drips and leaks, and you should take the opportunity of your next maintenance visit to have all of the plumbing and toilets checked to make sure they are operating efficiently.

If you have concerns that the tenant family just isn't conserving water, then I would suggest that the next time your lease is up for renewal you make the family put the water and sewer bill in their name. You can do this either in lieu of a rent increase or you may even lower the rent if the bill is rather large in relation to their rent. With your tenant family paying the water bill you can be assured that they will immediately report all leaks or running toilets.

• Property manager Robert Griswold is author of "Property Management for Dummies," and "Property Management Kit for Dummies," and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies." Email rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

2012, Inman News Service

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