Your home should be your haven - your sanctuary. But what if it's not, and you're a renter? If you believe your rented home is no longer safe, should you be able to move? That’s the question one college student in Denton is asking.
It was late on a Monday evening when student who asks that we not use her name, took a break from the books and jumped in the shower. She heard her dog barking frantically. Her mother, Diana Churchman, recounted what happened next.
"So when she stepped out of the shower, no clothes on, and reaches for a towel, she sees someone right here,” said Churchman, pointing to an area about five feet from the young woman’s bathroom.
The police report says a man stood feet away - half clothed - holding a pair of her panties performing a lewd act.
"I'm grateful that she had the presence of mind to get herself back into the bathroom and lock that door," said Churchman.
Weeks after the break-in, she says a rose was left by the front door. And then the young woman recalled other incidents she’d at first dismissed. She says just weeks before someone tapped repeatedly on her bathroom window as she showered. Days later, she was again in the bathroom when she heard a noise at the window.
"She heard something and went to investigate. And the screen was off of her window," said Churchman. She believes all the incidents are connected and her daughter is a victim of stalking.
"It makes an already scary situation that much more terrifying," said Churchman The suspect has not been caught, so her daughter has moved out. But the young woman can't get out of her lease. She pays $800 monthly for a house she’s not lived in since the incident on February 15.
She went to the Texas Tenants Union for help. Leaders at the renters’ advocacy organization say state law mandates tenants be released from a lease under just a few circumstances.
“If it's a sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking,” said Sandy Rollins, the Union’s executive director. But there's some hoops to jump through."
Rollins says a tenant must show documented proof. So the question remains - Is this young woman a stalking victim? Penal Code 42.072 calls the crime stalking when an individual threatens the victim "on more than one occasion."
The police told NBC 5 Responds they don't know if the other incidents are related to the break-in, so they're investigating the case as a burglary with the intent to commit assault. It’s a serious crime, but not stalking.
Her mother argues otherwise.
"How can she sleep in this house - take a shower in that shower, and not think every time that he might be on the other side of that door again?" Churchman asked.
Adami Realty owns the home. NBC 5 Responds sent numerous emails, visited the Denton office and spoke with the company attorney. All declined to comment. The young woman's lawyer is currently in discussions with Adami's attorneys to try to reach an agreement.
NBC 5 Responds is often contacted by renters who want to terminate a lease because they don't feel safe. But if you're not a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, or a member of the military facing deployment, Texas law says your landlord does not have let you out of your lease.
Renters’ rights experts advise you to send a letter by certified mail to the owners of the property - not just on-site management. Tenant's rights advocates say often a compromise can be reached.