‘I can’t deal with this’: Renters want out of lease because of neighborhood crime

CHARLOTTE — Bullets into homes, drug houses nearby, cars stolen — some renters want out of their neighborhoods and out of their leases because of the crimes being committed in their area. But it’s not always as simple as packing up and leaving.

Antonio Gaither showed Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke the bullet holes both outside and inside the house he rents.

He filed a police report. “Too close for me, man. I can think of a million ways I can go, but being shot … that’d be the last one,” he said.

A renter in another part of town sent Action 9 an email saying she’s a third-grade teacher and single mother of a 10-year-old girl. She says a bullet went into her daughter’s bedroom and that “life dramatically changed” that day.

“I’m trying to get out of here. I can’t deal with this,” Gaither said.

Some renters want out of their neighborhoods and out of their leases but a lot of times that’s easier said than done.

Gaither and the third-grade teacher both say they asked their landlords to get out of their leases without penalty, but that their landlords said no.

The company Gaither rents from told Stoogenke it doesn’t typically let renters out of their leases because of crime in the area, but that it is quick to improve security at the homes, such as better locks and more lighting.

“This is an issue that we see fairly commonly, unfortunately,” said Isaac Sturgill, a lawyer with Legal Aid. “If they’re a DV (domestic violent) victim and they’re trying to get away from the abuser, if they’re active military and they’re deployed, for instance, they have a right (in North Carolina) to break the lease early.”

But renters don’t have the right to break their lease because of crime in their neighborhood. If they want out, they may have to pay.

“There are always out clauses in leases, whether that’s terminating and paying a fee if you really don’t feel safe,” said Kim Graham who runs the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association. “I think renters have to do what is their level of comfort at the end of the day.”

You can always move out. No one can force you to stay, but obviously, the question is: what’s the penalty?

If you do want to break your lease for crime reasons, see if you can make a deal with your landlord. Charlotte is a competitive housing market so it may not be hard for your landlord to find another renter to fill your place. In fact, the law says landlords have to make a “reasonable” effort to find a replacement if you leave before your lease is up.

Plus, it’s perfectly fair to ask your landlord to make security improvements.

You may also want to research crime statistics before you sign a lease. Click here to go to a crime mapping website.

While landlords can’t control what happens off their property, let’s say you live in an apartment complex where crime is happening in other units or common areas that are under the landlord’s control. It can still be tricky to get out of your lease, however. The landlord owes you a right to the “quiet enjoyment” of your property, but legally he/she isn’t necessarily responsible for the behavior of a third party (such as another renter). The landlord may feel that tenant is violating the lease and try to evict that person, but the other renter has rights too and may fight the eviction.

(VIDEO: Who’s responsible for dangerous living conditions many Charlotte renters face?)