Property Q&A in 78750>Question Details

 Julie, Real Estate Pro in Austin, TX

can tenant break lease with "safety" reason?

Asked by Julie, Austin, TX Sun Jan 23, 2011

Hello All the RealEstate experts
We have a tenant complaining about the neighbor's harassing her and her grown up son. She said she filed complaint to the police. She told us that she will have to break the lease if the harassment happens again.
She says she can break lease due to safety reason.

We'd like to ask your opinion on this issue. Does she has the right to break lease using safety reason? If this happen, what is our option as land lord? Her lease is for 1 year and she moved in last Nov.
What does police do when they receive this kind of complaint? Would the police contact the person who did the harassment?

Your opinion is very important to us.Thanks a lot

Help the community by answering this question:


If you used a Realtor and have a TAR Residential Lease Agreement, Item #28 covers this. If you have a different lease in effect it would depend on the lease. The Property Code Chapter 92 is the law that governs these situations.

The problem the tenant is having does not have to do with the property or the lease. It is with a neighbor. You are NOT PROVIDING THE NEIGHBOR. You might look at this situation from the point that you have a tenant who is either 1.) looking for a way to break the lease for whatever reason they can find 2.) has a legitimate concern about the neighbor and personal safety. You might approach this from the angle of asking the tenant what you can do to help with the situation.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
Austin Tenent Council: Call 474-1961 to speak to a housing counselor. The telephone counseling line is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
No. The tenant has no right to break her lease.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Jan 24, 2011
Hello Bill,
My Realtor is on vacation .She is overseas now and I can't reach her. I emailed my question to her back up realtor,but no response yet.
Just FYI, we used the TAR lease form.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Jan 24, 2011
Just curious, what does your REALTOR say?
I see you've responded back with some instances.
Please let us know what your real estate agent said.

0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Jan 24, 2011
One more instance the next door neighbor knocked on her door to ask to use her phone to call to locate the neighborS phone.and the neighbor looked drunk toher.
we know the detail about these three instances.I need to find out the detail about the last one
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
Thanks every one for the great answers.based on the tenants email,the next door neighbor knock on the door drunk and try to borrow money from her son and the neighbor playing loud car music also looking drunk.I know the neighbor are tenant . Would it help to contact land lord of that property?
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
I’m a lawyer, and a Realtor, and I’ve owned rent property for forty years. I’ll give you some practical advice. And some advice that’s not legal advice (no, really, it’s not) because I’m not your lawyer and don’t know all the facts, or the law in your jurisdiction.

You don’t say why they are being harassed. If it’s just because he’s a jerk, invites it, and would be harassed no matter where he lives; then no, they can’t break the lease for that reason. But that’s probably not the reason. And if it is, how will you prove it? Do you have a jerk meter? Your best course is to let these tenants walk away with a smile and full deposit refund.

Since this harassment is probably not because they are jerks and invite it, it’s probably because of something that makes them different, religion, race, a disability, even family status or age (you remember, those Federally protected areas?) and sexual orientation is protected in some cities. If this is it, ask yourself if refusing to let them out of a lease is discrimination just like refusing to lease to them in the first place would have been. Not a fight you want to have. Again, the advice is let them walk, with a full deposit.

But it gets worse. Suppose you refuse the refund, so they can’t afford to move, and he gets the hell beat out of him in the next “harassment.” That really is a fight you don’t want to have.

But wait! There’s more! Again, unless it really is just because they are a jerks, you need to warn anyone you rent to in the future about the harassment if they‘re likely to encounter it because they too are whatever it is these tenants are (Muslim, paraplegic, American Indian, Lutheran, gay…). If you don’t give that warning, and the new tenant gets harassed you have the same situation. Worse, because you knew from past experience that this could happen. Yours would not be the first “failure to warn” case involving serious damages. There have been similar cases involving the failure to install CCTV or hire security guards after attacks. If harassment goes unchecked, add some beer and you’ll have serious injury.

Remember, all that was not legal advice because I’m not your lawyer and I don’t know all the facts or the law in your jurisdiction. But I do wish you good luck. Just try not to get mad about these sorry tenants, that’s how you get into trouble.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
Good advice all around. My 2 cents - work to resolve the issue amicably and keep communication going. There is the law and contracts and then there is common sense. Perhaps you can marry the two.

Good luck.
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0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
Your problem is larger than whether you choose to let this tenant out of her lease. Your problem is you may have a next door neighbor who has or potentially will interfere with you attracting and retaining good tenants. You want to investigate the matter very thoroughly for the sake of your existing tenant and for the safety of future tenants. Start with creating a log for yourself dated from the first date the problem came to your attention. Note the date, time, and info initially provided to you about this problem. Note your initial response and actions (if any) to mitigate risk. For example, you may wish to check the window and door locks of your rental , if you have not already done so. Check to see if there is overgrown landscaping that would provide a hiding place near the entrance to the unit. Document this activity in your log. If an Austin police report has been filed, you should get a copy of that report. You may have to request this in writing from the police in order to obtain the "detailed" version of the report. Make every effort to understand the problem in its entirety. Assess the risk. Ask the police officer who investigated the harassment what his opinion of the situation is if you possibly can. If your conclusion is the risk is high, then the owner may wish to consider letting the tenant depart without penalty. If you conclude otherwise, in the interest of tenant relations and safety, it would be helpful to take steps to increase security regardless. Perhaps add some security lighting to the exterior. Maybe add an alarm system. Bruce had some good ideas about touching base with the neighbors next door. As he said the problem may have more than one side to it. Get the opinion of the tenant as to what would help that tenant feel safer. This situation calls for an extraordinary level of customer service and genuine concern. Good luck.
Web Reference:
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
Refer to the lease.
I would guess it does not address safety of people next door?
One of my next door neighbors I have not seen in over a year,
so I wonder what she has done to create a confrontation.
I would meet her at the home one day and have the CRO officer or one of the beat officers also meet you there.
Ask the officer to advise her how to live there safely. You can pretty much guess what the officer is going to say....mind your business, don't talk back, don't talk at all to the neighbor, don't park in their yard, don't put your trash in their yard, don't leave your dog out all night long barking, don't talk to the neighbor, don't stare, don't go over there, leave them alone.....and if the neighbor does any of those things to you, call us first and let us talk to them.
They you can tell them they have signed a lease and you expect them to honor the lease and not do anything to antagonize the neighbors. If they want to move at the end of the lease, you understand.
Then while everyone is standing there, you could also ask the officer to accompany you to talk to the neighbor. Apologize for disturbing them and ask if there is anything you can do to make relations better.
Give them your number and have them call you if there is ever a problem. You'll then have some constant eyes and ears watching your property and you will find out both sides of the story.
Takes notes recording dates, times, people there, badge numbers, etc. You can always let people see you are taking notes to express your deep concern for what is going on there and make sure you get the facts correctly.
My guess is all these problems will cease at that point.
Then remember you don't have to renew the lease at the end of the term if you don't have a good tenant.
Web Reference:
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
Bruce Lynn, Real Estate Pro in Coppell, TX
Although I'm a REALTOR and I do a fair amount of leasing, this is not an opinion based on any property management experience, this is a recount of a personal experience years ago.

Myself and another girl rented a house that ended up being right next to a house that had a lot of drug activity going on in and around it. Although the people who actually lived there were pretty nice, all the people who came and went (24 hours a day) weren't so savory. This was the first time I had rented from a management company - I believe it was April Realty - I was scared that they weren't going to let us out of our lease. I had to try, however, I was truly in fear of something bad happening to one or both of us.

So, I called and wrote the landlord and told them exactly what I suspected was going on next door and expressed that I was concerned for our safety. I asked them if we could possibly be let out of our lease, given these circumstances. I had not called the police so I didn't have that to back me up. Honestly, I was afraid to call the police.

Anyway, the management company let us out of our lease without penalty and even helped with the cost of transferring our utilities. I still think I was lucky that management was willing to believe me and let me move on.

My opinion? Let them out of their lease. It's a good time of year to get a new tenant quickly and you will be taking these people out of a very stressful and possibly dangerous situation.

I hope this helps.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011

There is a lot of wisdom in Scott's words. While the lease and the Texas Property Code govern the situation from a contractual/legal perspective, you may also want to consider the human experience that is going on here. If the landlord were my client, I would advise him to dig a bit deeper into the problem. If the Tenant indeed filed a report with the police, they are scared.

When the LL has a conversation with the Tenant, there may be an answer that comes forth that does not involve them moving. If not, it may be best for all to negotiate a lease termination. If the Tenant is truly in danger and something happens to them, your LL will be exposed to an array of negative emotions. If he works with the Tenant to find a reasonable solution (perhaps a one month rent severance or other compensation for terminating the lease) the LL may sleep better at night. We seem to always look for the contractual/legal consideration in these issues. My advice would be don't forget the people.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011

There are a lot of issues to address here. It depends on what sort of harassment your talking about. Is the neighbor threatening them physically? Has she indeed filed a complaint with the police? You will want to determine this, to know the possibilities of her ability to break the lease.
How does the lease you have address breaking a lease and the tenants options? Sorry to ask questions whether than answer them, but these are questions that you have to address.
To answer one of your questions, the police should contact the person who not only filed the complaint, but the person they complained about.. The Austin Tenant Council, which was mentioned in one of the other answers, is a great resource in times like this.
As a real estate broker, property manager, and owner of rental property, I would say that if this persists, you're probably better of letting the tenant out of the lease and working with someone else. I'm not a big fan of working with folks, who clearly don't want to be there. We have a great rental market from a landlords point of view.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
Lease Breaking: All your answers are in the lease document. The landlord and tenant's obligations regarding repairs are stated there in; and if you used a TAR lease, their are website links to your rights under the lease. If you landlord is harrassing you, or "retaliating" for submitting your repair requests, and does not timely repair items, then you have other remedies. I recommned you contact a landlord tenant attorney, or lease realtor, and counsel with them. or google property code statute 92.056 et seq.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
Yes the tenant can get out of the lease. If you read the lease carefully you'll see this in the lease.
And the police will handle the complaint on their own.
You can also explore this
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jan 23, 2011
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