I'm in an apartment in Bed-Stuy and recently there was a break-in and burglary on one of our floors. The break-in happened on a Friday, but I didn't hear about the break-in until that Monday. We have locks on our windows and a basic lock on our front door, but no bars on the windows, no alarms, and no security guard. I've been looking up crime reports for this month, and there has been a lot of trouble in our neighborhood. I worry that the recent break-in has revealed the uninhabitability of our apartment, and I am hoping to break my lease and find a safer apartment in a safer area. Can I get out of my lease? What are my chances of getting out of the lease without a lawsuit? What are my chances of winning a lawsuit, should it come to that? Thank you so much for your help!
Dear can I terminate my lease?
Perhaps I might help.
Unless your lease allows you the right to early cancellation, the answer is not really. You cannot break a lease because you fear your neighborhood. You could request the landlord consent to an early and voluntary ending of your lease. You need to make a paper trail of your notice to the landlord of your concerns for safety, raising the recent burglary and the increase in local crime, and be certain to include your requests for additional security at the building. If the landlord does not consent to your early departure, and you fear living in your home you could still move out but you are legally responsible for the rent due for the duration of your lease until the landlord rents your apartment to a new tenant.
If you are later sued, you will hire an attorney to advocate your reasons for departing early and because you requested an early release from the landlord arising from your fear, you may be able to prevail or partly succeed if you are sued.
The warranty of habitability does not create a lawful ability to break a lease even when there are conditions affecting the habitability of the home in the apartment or elsewhere in the building. The warranty of habitability provides the tenant with an opportunity to raise a breach of the warranty of habitability either as a defense against the landlord's claim for unpaid rent, or in the form of a counterclaim for a money judgment for rent previously paid, or as an affirmative cause of action in a civil lawsuit for money damages against the landlord based upon a breach of the warranty of habitability. If you are later sued by the landlord for the rent arising from your early departure, your lawyer will likely try to raise the warranty of habitability as part of your defense.
There are no specific rules which require that a landlord install alarms other than smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, or maintain a security guard at the building. There are many community group opportunities for tenants and landlords to join in with the local NYPD precinct for participation in a neighborhood watch program and similar neighborhood and block associations where concerned persons gather together to improve the community.
If tenants in your building are united in a demand that the landlord install security cameras and hire a guard, the tenants in your building might advocate for those issues by banding together as a tenants' association.
You may also discover that the local NYPD precinct has heightened attention to the recent trouble in the neighborhood and is looking to engage property owners and tenants in a joint effort to work toward diminishing the outbreak.
New York does not allow bars on your windows. You may install a second lock on the front door with the landlord's permission, as long as you provide a duplicate key for use in case of a need for emergency entry to the apartment.
The answer provided to you is in the nature of general information. The general proposition being that you should try to avoid a bad outcome if you can.
Crime in your neighborhood or building does not give you the right to terminate your least. You would have to show that your landlord violated your lease and/or failed to take reasonable steps to protect you and your building---and this is almost an impossible burden to meet. If you want to move, the best approach is to negotiate an amicable settlement with your landlord. You should not do this without retaining legal counsel---you will have a much stronger bargaining position if you are represented by counsel.
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