Learning your renter's rights

HOUSTON Breaking a lease -- even if you have concerns for safety -- can take time and patience. When security starts to falter because of a new owner, renters may be tempted to walk away. There is a way to get out of a lease, but it will not be quick.

If you live in an apartment, you know just how comforting good security can be.

Renter Mike Cooley said, "It is actually, really, the security guard lives right under me and I got to know him. I feel good, the neighbors all talk to each other."

But what happens when the security starts to break down?

"The most important thing that people understand is that a landlord is under no obligation to provide security," explained U of H Law Professor Richard Alderman. "When you rent an apartment it is basically your obligation to look and see if the security you want is there."

Alderman says there is a difference if the security was provided when a renter first moved in but then gates started breaking and access doors stopped working.

He said, "If an apartment complex, for example, switches ownership or management companies and the gates don't work or the lights go out or the security guard stops showing up, that is a different story."

Alderman says a renter can't just walk away. Instead they must first send a certified letter to the apartment complex management explaining that the conditions are dangerous to personal safety and that the renter expects the problems will get fixed in a reasonable amount of time.

He said, "Then if the landlord does not, then you can leave."

Alderman says before things get to the letter writing point, ask the manger if they'll accept a portion of the remaining lease as payment in full. If they do, be sure to get the deal in writing.

If you walk away from a lease you can be sued by the apartment complex and the judgment can appear on your credit report. Alderman says it may take a bit of time, but sending the letter helps you build your case in the event you do decide to leave.

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