Every landlord's worst dread has come to pass. You receive a call from a tenant reporting that their rental unit has been broken into. The tenant is obviously quite disturbed and distressed. Apart from the potentially considerable and irreplaceable loss of belongings, having one's home broken into is typically one of the most painful events in a person's life.
It's critical to realize that trauma can creep into a person's consciousness and make them feel controlled rather than in control. Trauma is the psychological outcome of deeply wounded individuals trying to mend and make themselves whole again. It is normal for the tenant to feel overwhelmed by this, and endure far longer than the actual event, which is to be expected. This is why it is crucial for a landlord to be aware of what to do in the terrible event that a burglary occurs on their rental property, as well as their legal obligations and liabilities under California law, as well as the psychological and financial effects on the renter.
Initial Prompt Responses or Reactions;
Tell the tenant not to enter the rental property if they phone you first, and dial 911 right away. When this happens, people's emotions are usually at their highest, and many of them have the instinctive desire to enter the unit in an effort to apprehend and arrest the offender—which can be quite dangerous. It is not worth the risk to add personal injury to financial loss. Inform them to prioritize their own security and to leave that to the authorities.
Starting to clean up any messes the thief created while emptying drawers or breaking windows is another normal instinct. Don't let them touch anything, say. Maintaining the status quo will allow the authorities to conduct their investigation without affecting the evidence.
It's crucial to express to the tenant your genuine understanding for how unpleasant this is. that you "as the landlord is legally responsible for" will do everything in your power to assist them in recovering from this loss. It's crucial to explain what the "landlord is legally accountable for" because at the time the burglary is reported, it's likely that this is not entirely evident. This not only protects you from liability being wrongly placed upon the landlord until the police investigate, but also serves to express empathy and your good faith effort to assist them at the time.
Do not assign any specific duties at this time until the police have had an opportunity to investigate, determine the circumstances behind the break-in, and submit a report. Otherwise, premature speaking could result in future obligations for the landlord and legal action under California law. The next step is to speak with neighbors right away to ask them if they noticed anything odd while their memories are still fresh and to alert them to a potential threat on the property or in the community.
Contact/Notify Insurance Providers;
Both the tenant and the landlord should then get in touch with their insurance company after dealing with the immediate threat and alerting the neighbors. Renter's insurance will typically be the only means through which tenants may recoup their financial losses, making it one of the most crucial reasons to require them to carry it. Within 30 to 60 minutes of learning of the break-in, take this action.
It's imperative for everyone involved to confirm their coverage and policy expiration dates. The tenant should have complied with the requirements of their renter's insurance provider and kept receipts for expensive products as well as images of anything exceeding roughly two hundred dollars in value.
Restore Any Damaged Doors or Windows;
You must immediately fix any broken windows or doors if the break-in involved a forcible entry. Anyone cannot be expected to reside in a rental home that cannot be secured, let alone one that has recently experienced a break-in. The implied warranty of habitability, which is a part of the rental or lease agreement whether it is in written or not, requires the landlord to give tenants a safe place to live. The landlord could face legal repercussions under California law if they fail to make rapid repairs that make the property safe and livable.
Have the Rental Space Secured;
It's crucial to respond to the tenant's reasonable concerns for safety in this situation while their nerves are still raw. While a landlord is not compelled to put in a burglar alarm or security cameras, whether they are real or less expensive imitations that deceive thieves, you should think about doing so if it will help the tenant feel protected and encourage you to maintain them as a good tenant. Maintaining the landscape so that there are no hiding places for criminals and using motion sensor lights to keep areas lit also help. Repair any broken porch lights. Conduct routine property inspections to ensure that everything is being maintained as it should be.
Windows locks and deadbolt locks are further safety features. To ensure that the tenant is aware of the safety precautions you have taken or are taking, specify them in the lease agreement. The general rule of thumb is to research the precautions that other landlords in your neighborhood are taking and match or surpass them on your own property.
Things Your Tenant Might Inquire About;
Is My Stolen Property Going to Be Paid for by the Landlord?
According to California law, a landlord's liability for a tenant's losses resulting from a burglary depends on the specifics, although it is likely not the case if the landlord has exercised reasonable diligence. One of the most essential reasons landlords should require tenants to obtain renter's insurance is that, in the majority of cases, the tenant's renter's insurance will cover that. In order for the landlord to be able to reference the agreement they signed in order to respond to the question of whose obligation it is if a break-in occurs on the property, your rental or lease agreement should also include language addressing this matter.
However, if it can be demonstrated that the landlord did not exercise due care, such as by failing to maintain common areas or by failing to take proactive security measures that a reasonable landlord would take, such as checking that locks function properly, the landlord may be held liable for damages sustained as a result of break-ins. If a tenant reports a problem with a door or window lock and the landlord does not fix it, the landlord may be held accountable for damages. Or the landlord may be held accountable if the tenant lost their keys, notified the landlord, and the landlord neglected to replace the lock. Therefore, if a renter misplaced a key, failed to notify the landlord, or gave a key to a friend and there was no sign of a break-in, it is likely that the key was used to enter. The landlord is not responsible if it is clear that the entry was forced.
These are a few of the reasons the landlord shouldn't guarantee the tenant anything about what they are accountable for until the police have finished their investigation and the facts of the case have been established, which are frequently unclear when the burglary is reported.
Can I terminate my lease early and leave?
In this situation, it's crucial for the landlord to get how trauma functions. It can impose itself on a person's consciousness and feel overwhelming, making them feel as though they are being controlled by the trauma rather than the other way around. That is a typical outcome of trauma. The tenant may feel unsafe despite the landlord's best efforts to make them feel secure, including the installation of security cameras, increased lighting, and deadbolt locks, and may decide to terminate the lease early. Because emotions are irrational, it is not always true that someone is in danger only because they don't feel safe. However, the landlord is in a difficult position, therefore being adaptable in your approach is crucial.
Until the landlord is able to find another renter, the balance of the lease must be paid in full by the tenant. But consider this: Would you really like a tenant that feels uneasy and doesn't want to be there living on your property?
If the tenant has requested additional security measures that the landlord has not given, they may vacate and file a lawsuit against you for breaching the implied promise of habitability. The judge hearing the case will presumably make that decision based on how it will play out in court. But if they want to do this, do you want to potentially spend money on legal fees with a renter who you know has been harmed by a break-in? It is always preferable to work with the tenant, especially if you are aware of their true fear, as letting them break the lease could ultimately save you money and additional hassles.
Tenants That Are Dissatisfied Make For Landlords Who Are Unpleasant!
What happens if a neighboring apartment's tenant feels unsafe and wants to break their lease? They most likely can't break their lease legally. To counter this threat or maybe run afoul of the law, a landlord must be able to demonstrate that they are stepping up security measures in the region where crime is on the rise.
Getting Back Stolen Items;
Helping the tenants understand what steps they can take to try to recover their property is yet another method the landlord can demonstrate genuine empathy. One method to look for stolen stuff is to search nearby pawn shops. Anyone bringing property to a pawn shop in California must show ID in order to receive payment. It is generally simple to get the renter's property back if they have images of it and have reported it stolen because most pawn shops wish to fully cooperate with law enforcement in this way.
In the twenty-first century, Craigslist and other online classified advertisements are more commonly used by thieves to sell their stolen goods. If anything that matches the description of the stolen stuff is discovered on these websites, report it to the police force that looked into the break-in in the hopes that the items would be returned.
Making sure your rental home is as safe and secure as possible is always in the landlord's best interest. According to the circumstances, a court may hold the landlord liable for much, much higher damages if a tenant is hurt while a break-in is taking place. This is particularly true if the property has a history of break-ins. Building confidence with your renters and treating a break-in properly and sympathetically will help to increase security and general well-being on your property. Should a break-in take place, the preparation you've made beforehand will greatly reduce the harm and damage.
This entails having a clause in your rental or lease agreement covering burglaries and rental insurance, educating your tenants to keep photos and receipts of large purchases, realistically assessing the crime situation in your neighborhood, meeting or exceeding standard safety measures to secure the property, performing routine inspections to ensure everything like locks and lights are functioning properly, responding to any tenant security concerns, and educating tenants what they should be doing to maintain the area's security will all help to significantly lessen and, hopefully, end break-ins on your property and limit the landlord's liability under California law.