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Are Tenants Liable for Burglary Damages?

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

What happens when a burglar breaks in to your rented home and not only steals your stuff, but damages property (like the front door) too? Who pays for the damages -- you or your landlord?

While no one wants to think about the unfortunate situation of their home being burglarized, it's something both homeowners and renters alike should consider.

Generally speaking, both landlords and tenants may end up paying for damages stemming from a burglary. Here's an overview of what you need to know:

The Tenant's Belongings

The first question a tenant may be asking after a burglary is: How do I replace the items that were stolen?

The first place to check should be your lease, which may spell out what happens to a tenant's possessions in this situation. Sometimes, a tenant may have already purchased renter's insurance, if required by the lease, in which case the tenant's belongings would be covered under that.

As a general rule, a tenant should have his personal property insured. That's because the landlord's insurance will probably not cover tenant property losses for items that aren't in an apartment building's common areas (such as a lobby).

However, there are cases when a landlord could potentially be liable. For example, if a landlord didn't act with due care -- in maintaining common areas, or in taking proactive security measures that a reasonable landlord would take (like making sure all locks are working) -- then a tenant may be able to argue that the landlord should have to pay for the burglary.

Damages to Building Itself

What about damage to the property itself? This would depend on a number of considerations, such as:

  • The lease. Again, you should check your lease first. Sometimes, there will be terms in a lease that seek to impose this responsibility on the tenant. (If so, you may want to ask a lawyer if this clause is even enforceable.)
  • The landlord's insurance policy. A landlord's insurance policy may provide coverage for the damages to the building. Like all insurance policies, however, coverage can vary.
  • The tenant's own actions. Depending on the circumstances, a tenant's actions (or inaction) may make him responsible. For example, if you fail to notify your landlord or fail to provide a copy of the police report pursuant to your lease, then you may have to pay for damages that your landlord was never aware of.

Also, if a tenant's own negligence somehow caused the break-in (like if a tenant left his door unlocked and wide open) or exacerbated the damages, then a tenant's recovery could potentially be reduced.

For more guidance on who's liable for burglary damages in a landlord-tenant situation, you may want to consult an experienced landlord-tenant lawyer near you.

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