Landlords in nearly all states have the legal responsibility to keep their tenants safe and secure within the rental unit, and to provide habitable premises. These obligations typically come either from state or local housing rules or the landlord's general duty to “act with due care.”
For example, landlords are normally expected to take steps to make sure tenants are not at risk of harm from crime, environmental hazards, or problems due to lack of maintenance, repairs, or home improvements.
In some cases, landlords, especially absentee ones, may be unaware of problems in your rental unit or on the property, or at least may not realize the seriousness of the situation.
Putting your requests in writing—whether it’s for deadbolt locks, radon testing, fixing an unstable stair or railing, or better outside lighting—can be an effective way to get results.
Having a written record of your complaints about personal safety issues—especially when the landlord has not kept promises—will provide your landlord an increased incentive to take action. Also, if you plan to withhold rent, you’ll need evidence that you have given the landlord written notice of the problem. (See How Rent Withholding Works for details.)
And a written complaint or request letter will be useful evidence should you end up suing your landlord.
Your letter should remind the landlord of the foreseeable consequences of the landlord’s failure to deal with an obvious problem; propose a reasonable solution; and suggest that the consequences, such as health problems, a fire, or a burglary or assault, are serious. Also ask for the landlord’s response within a specific amount of time (such as five business days).
Your letter does not necessarily need to threaten repercussions if your landlord is not cooperative. Better to have the letter carry the clear implication that you take the request seriously and will act in some as-yet-unspecified way if the landlord’s favorable response is not forthcoming.
Use this Sample Tenant Letter Alerting the Landlord to Dangerous Conditions as a model in preparing your own letter. If you aware of events that already took place and are related to the particular security problem, be sure to mention that in your letter (along with anything else that will motivate the landlord to take action).
To strengthen your case, have your letter signed by as many tenants as possible. Keep a copy for your records, along with the details of your landlord’s response.