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Cotuit

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Any lawyers on the board, or maybe a landlord familiar with landlord-tenant laws?

My girlfriend's apartment up in Boston was robbed yesterday while her and her roommate were at work. A laptop, digital camera, and some other items were taken. There was no sign of forced entry and they live on the fourth floor of the building. She said there was people painting in the hallway when she left for work in the morning. She also said that their deadbolt had been broken on their door for a few weeks and the landlord had been notified. It also turns out that the door to the apartment building hasn't been locking.

They weren't going to do anything about it, but I made her call the landlord and file a police report. She said the landlord didn't seem very concerned and talked her out of having the locks changed that night. He said if they didn't give their key out to anyone there was no reason to change the locks.. She also reminded him about the broken front door and their broken deadbolt. It is my understanding that the landlord's failure to promptly fix both doors makes him liable for any damages/lost property of his tenants. Is this correct? I told her to withhold April's rent until they at least get the door fixed, but if they can get compensation for thier lost items that'd be great as well. They do not have renter's insurance which in hindsight is too bad. Does this hurt their ability to get any compensation from the landlord?

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not having renter's insurance should have no bearing on getting anything from the landlord.

i would hold out on rent until the deadbolts are fixed. did they file the police report? if there's no sign of forced entry, i would make sure the police investigate the workers who were in there. it really sounds like it was someone who may have had access to their apartment. obviously, no one is going to climb the side of the building to get a laptop and a couple cameras. they should also talk to others who lived in the building. they may not be the only ones who were robbed. if they were and it was because they were the only ones with a broken lock, the landlord might be liable for not fixing it. i'm not sure what the laws are on fixing things like locks in a timely manner (my thought would be the day it's reported, if not then at least the very next day). however, and i am not a lawyer and not familiar with the landlord-tenant laws of MA, i have a bad feeling that because they didn't have renter's insurance, they're not gonna get much.

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It is my understanding that the landlord's failure to promptly fix both doors makes him liable for any damages/lost property of his tenants.

Do you have a written record of asking the landlord to fix the lock?

Why leave valluables in the apartment if the lock was broken? Obviously the girls did not think this was a big deal either. If they did, their correct course of action is to let the landlord know in writing that the broken lock and deadbolt are to be fixed, and that they will pay a locksmith to replace the locks themselves and take it out of the rent if they have to. This would at least give them some legal standing.

Every standard lease has a clause in it about renter's insurance that specifically applies to things like that. Landlords take no responsibility and shouldn't. It leads to "my word against yours" arguments. How does the landlord know that your g/f didn't leave the door wide open? etc.

You are asking my legal opinion and that's it. You might have a case if you are willing to put a lot of time into and go to small claims court, etc. You might get something out of the landlord to avoid the hassle but they have nothing to lose by going to court and can write off their court fees. Without written documentation of when a repair was asked for, it's hard to say that she has legal bearing. A judge will be sympathetic if they can convince that the landlord knew the lock was broken (the deadbolt is irrelevant unless it was the outside security door, IMO, but I'm obviously not familiar with the way this property is set-up.), but it sounds like they just found that out. Either way even a sympathetic judge doesn't necessarily mean a judgement covering her loss.

If she and her roommates have more than about $5K in valuables around the house, it is worth renter's insurance.

If you ask me my personal opinion the guy is a scumbag to not replace the locks earlier. But scumbag does not equal responsibility.

Edited by brick
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The City of Boston has a Rental Housing Resource Center. I'd suggest contacting them explaining the situation and asking for advice, especially before witholding rent. If they aren't the right agency to speak with, I'm sure they can put her in touch with who to speak with. I'm no lawyer, but if she made the landlord aware of the problems with the locks and nothing was done about it...

http://www.cityofboston.gov/rentalhousing/

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The City of Boston has a Rental Housing Resource Center. I'd suggest contacting them explaining the situation and asking for advice, especially before witholding rent. If they aren't the right agency to speak with, I'm sure they can put her in touch with who to speak with. I'm no lawyer, but if she made the landlord aware of the problems with the locks and nothing was done about it...

http://www.cityofboston.gov/rentalhousing/

I believe you cannot legally withhold rent if it is not a direct life-safety violation (ie, no heat in winter, sewage problem, or fire safety). If they do, they may risk eviction.

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If she and her roommates have more than about $5K in valuables around the house, it is worth renter's insurance.

valuables should also be assumed to be your clothes, furniture, etc. renters insurance is cheap. i think i pay somewhere around $200 a year for $20k worth of coverage. some coverage only covers the current value of the item, while others cover the replacement value (that's what i have). the landlord isn't responsible for anything you bring into the apartment unless they are negligent.

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Do you have a written record of asking the landlord to fix the lock?

Why leave valluables in the apartment if the lock was broken? Obviously the girls did not think this was a big deal either. If they did, their correct course of action is to let the landlord know in writing that the broken lock and deadbolt are to be fixed, and that they will pay a locksmith to replace the locks themselves and take it out of the rent if they have to. This would at least give them some legal standing.

Every standard lease has a clause in it about renter's insurance that specifically applies to things like that. Landlords take no responsibility and shouldn't. It leads to "my word against yours" arguments. How does the landlord know that your g/f didn't leave the door wide open? etc.

You are asking my legal opinion and that's it. You might have a case if you are willing to put a lot of time into and go to small claims court, etc. You might get something out of the landlord to avoid the hassle but they have nothing to lose by going to court and can write off their court fees. Without written documentation of when a repair was asked for, it's hard to say that she has legal bearing. A judge will be sympathetic if they can convince that the landlord knew the lock was broken (the deadbolt is irrelevant unless it was the outside security door, IMO, but I'm obviously not familiar with the way this property is set-up.), but it sounds like they just found that out. Either way even a sympathetic judge doesn't necessarily mean a judgement covering her loss.

If she and her roommates have more than about $5K in valuables around the house, it is worth renter's insurance.

If you ask me my personal opinion the guy is a scumbag to not replace the locks earlier. But scumbag does not equal responsibility.

The deadbolt was broken but there was a traditional key lock on the doorknob that was still operational. They live above the landlord's business, so I'm sure they just walked down and made him aware of the deadbolt, rather than put it in writing which is unfortunate. This is their first time renting, and regrettably were not totally aware of how to protect themselves in situations like this, as far as keeping things in writing and all that. The building has one external door that you need to be buzzed into, then there's 4 floors of two apartments on each floor, theirs being on the top floor.

I do not know if the painters and workers had keys to the building or were let in, but the following quote shows that a landlord can be liable for negligent security if they were given keys, as well as if locks aren't fixed in a timely manor:

17. Building Security

Some recent lawsuits have produced high verdicts for tenants suing their landlords for negligence in maintaining building security. The State Sanitary Code requires that a dwelling "shall be capable of being reasonably secured against unlawful entry." Every entry door of the building and of each unit and every openable exterior window must be "capable of being reasonably secured from unlawful entry" and be "fitted with an operating locking device."

In a building containing more than three units, the main entry door must be able to close and lock automatically with a lock, including a lock with an electrically-operated striker mechanism, a self-closing door, and associated equipment.

These are the minimum requirements. If a tenant sues you because they were raped, injured, or their property stolen by an intruder, your actions will not be measured by the minimum legal requirement, but by what was reasonable. If you regularly leave security doors open, or give plumbers, carpenters, and "handymen" keys to tenants' apartments and leave them alone there, or fail to respond promptly to requests to repair door or window locks, you are vulnerable to claims for negligent security. If you know that your property is in a high crime area, inadequate lighting or locks can cost you far more than the cost of maintaining proper security. According to a recent court decision, you can also be held liable for crimes committed against tenants by your own employees

http://www.gis.net/~groucho/landlord.html#17

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interesting. it sounds like they might have a case. good luck with everything. did they file that police report? nothing will be done until that's filed and the longer they wait on that, the less likely they are to get antyhing out of this.

Yeah, they filed the police report last night.

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I do not know if the painters and workers had keys to the building or were let in, but the following quote shows that a landlord can be liable for negligent security if they were given keys, as well as if locks aren't fixed in a timely manor:

http://www.gis.net/~groucho/landlord.html#17

This doesn't really answer the question about the lock, though. If there was forced entry through the door because of the deadbolt, I would consider the deadbolt something to consider. If he knew the actual lock was borken and didn't fix it, I would consider that negligence. It doesn't sound like anyone knew the lock was broken (or suceptible to less obvious forced entry, e.g. credit card). If they knew these things and didn't report it, then they also have a responsibility. I guess the point is that "reasonably securd against unlawful entry" is a pretty broad definition. A liberal judge might say it is the resonsbility of the landlord to know that the door was secure and therefore he has responsility. My take would be a little different but I'm huge into people taking personal responsibility so I might not be the right person to ask. I do think the LL has a responsibilty towards his tenants and fixing a lock is a $100 fix so don't think I'm sympathizing with him either. Just that I think it is a slippery slope to give renters the ability to sue for their personal property losses.

Can your girlfriend say for sure that the door was locked when they left? Or would they just be "I'm pretty sure," etc.

When you say "apparently the lock doesn't work either" is that because there was no sign of forced entry and somebody got in? Can you really be sure the door was locked? Did you (they) lock it and try to get in yourself? Thieves have their ways, but I don't think a landlord should take responsibility in that case either. Etc. Are the girls 100% sure that they haven't given out a key?

I would suspect a fellow tenant (who might be familiar with the girls' routine) before the painters, for whatever that's worth.

Anyway, Cotuit gave the best advice, give those folks a call, have all of the details straight, and figure out the options.

Edited by brick
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This doesn't really answer the question about the lock, though.

<snip>

I would suspect a fellow tenant (who might be familiar with the girls' routine) before the painters, for whatever that's worth.

Anyway, Cotuit gave the best advice, give those folks a call, have all of the details straight, and figure out the options.

Here's the facts:

A few weeks ago, the deadbolt stopped working when being locked from the outside with a key. It still worked when manually flipped from the inside. The landlord was notified that the deadbolt wasn't working and he said he would call a locksmith. All your security is in the deadbolt, it's very trivial to jimmie a regular doorknob lock. This is why most of the literature I read specifically mentioned deadbolts on all doors. The landlord was able to get someone to fix the lock today, which tells me he clearly wasn't in much of a hurry weeks ago when he was first made aware of the issue.

I don't know much about the front door not locking properly, that was the first I had heard of it and I'm not sure if the landlord was made aware of it before the break-in. However, I don't think it makes or breaks any charge of negligence.

The girls did not give out a key to anyone, not even me. I have personally inspected the broken deadbolt as well as whether or not the other lock on the door works. It does, and is always locked. Keying into the door opens it, but does not unlock the door so it will always be locked as it shuts behind you. My girlfriend's roommate insists she checked the doorknob and it was locked as she left yesterday morning. She checked it as she saw the workers in the hallway.

I agree that there's responsibility on the part of both parties, I was just wondering if there was anything they could do. It looks like if it had to come down to it, there's a free referral and a 25$ consultation with a lawyer that's available from the City of Boston. Also, I admit I might have been a bit quick to look to the painters. I was robbed back in high school by some people my parents had painting the house, so I might be biased.

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I believe you cannot legally withhold rent if it is not a direct life-safety violation (ie, no heat in winter, sewage problem, or fire safety). If they do, they may risk eviction.

Just saw this post. According to the Boston rental handbook:

A tenant may consider withholding rent if the landlord fails to make repairs, provided that:

1. There are code violations

2. The landlord knew of, was informed of or should have known of the conditions

3. The damages were not caused by the tenant

4. Needed repairs can be made while the tenant is in residence

5. The conditions

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I agree that there's responsibility on the part of both parties, I was just wondering if there was anything they could do. It looks like if it had to come down to it, there's a free referral and a 25$ consultation with a lawyer that's available from the City of Boston. Also, I admit I might have been a bit quick to look to the painters. I was robbed back in high school by some people my parents had painting the house, so I might be biased.

Wasn't trying to accuse you of a bias, just making sure your g/f understands that just because the painters aren't there tomorrow (or whenever) doesn't mean her stuff isn't at risk, kind of thing. You know, typical blah blah be careful parental type advice :)

However, I don't think it makes or breaks any charge of negligence.

If a working lock provided a barrier to forced entry, then it could, I think that's pretty clear from the language of the statement that you linked. Couldn't the case be made that the locked door meets the requirements and that the additional deadbolt is voluntary additional security? That's how I would argue it if I were the LL.

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if you were irish, you'd probably be beaten and left for dead for saying that.

no, ireland is not part of the UK. the UK is england, wales, scotland, and northern ireland.

sorry. not only is my family from Northern Ireland, but Orange Northern as well.

I thought that's where Bono was from?

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