Generally speaking, the landlord—as owner of the building—bears the responsibility for damage to the property as the result of a break-in. Typically, the landlord will have insurance that covers the structure of the building, while renter’s insurance covers only personal property of the resident. Thus, the landlord will normally submit a claim for any damage to real property to his insurance company. However, there are exceptions to the general rule.
If you've been the victim of a break-in and your landlord says you’re responsible for damage to the building, don’t take his word for it. Some landlords try to shift this responsibility to renters to avoid increased insurance rates, or simply because they don’t believe that there was a break-in and think the resident is actually responsible for the damage. Read your lease, check your state and local laws and get some advice from an attorney or local tenants’ rights organization.
Here are some of the circumstances in which the resident could be responsible for damages from a break-in:
- The terms of the lease specifically shift that responsibility to the tenant;
- The tenant fails to take action required by the lease, such as promptly making a police report and notifying the landlord of the break-in and the damage; or
- The tenant’s actions or negligence in some way caused the break-in or resulted in greater damage than might otherwise have occurred.
Ultimately, if the burglar is caught, the court may require him to pay restitution to you and your landlord for the damages each of you sustained. However, that can be a long process and depends on the burglar being arrested and convicted and then complying with the terms of the court order.
Know what your lease says about responsibility for damage to the property before the issue arises. If you could be responsible under the terms of the lease, talk to your renter’s insurance agent about whether there is additional insurance available to protect you against that possibility. And, of course, take precautions to prevent a break-in, such as maintaining adequate outdoor lighting, using an alarm system and making arrangements for someone to visit your house or apartment if you’re going to be away. Regardless of whether the ultimate cost for broken windows or jimmied doors falls on you or your landlord, a burglary is a disturbing experience for all involved.