Texas Law Does Not Allow Most Crime Victims Out of Their Lease

As any crime victim will tell you, after something happens you don't feel safe. And for one North Texas woman, there is no escape.

She is living in a place that's steps away from where her violent attack occurred.

The Century Medical District Apartments are billed as luxury apartments. They're not a place where you'd expect a violent attack. That's certainly not what 34-year-old Sarikhi Chaffin expected.

It was about 10 p.m. when Chaffin had popped out to a convenience store down the road. She says she was on apartment property and was almost home when the attack happened.

"He came around front of me and grabbed my purse. He said, 'I'm going to take your purse,'" Chaffin recalled.

The thief hit her with something, hard, and after that she doesn't remember much.

"When I passed out," Chaffin said, "I hit the floor. My body hit the concrete full-force that split completely down to my skull."

The attack split her ear. The mugger got her purse, which contained identification, credit cards and her Social Security number.

"They took absolutely took everything," said Chaffin.

After her release from the emergency room, Chaffin went straight to her leasing office. She says she asked to be released from her lease because, "I could no longer live here. I do not feel safe here."

But legally, there are only a few reasons a tenant can get out of a lease, including domestic violence in the home, sexual assault and military deployment.

"Which means that someone who has been mugged or physically assaulted, there is no way for them to get out of the lease legally without liability," said Yasmin Thomas, with the Texas Tenants Union.

If Chaffin were to break the lease, she'd be liable for rent for the seven months remaining on her lease. State law also allows an additional fee of up 85 percent of one month's rent. The leasing company could ask for that all at once.

The Texas Tenants Union tried to get Texas law changed without success. The union says tenants should try contacting the owners in writing.

"That can really make a difference. But legally they can be sympathetic, but they don't have to release the tenant from that contract," Thomas said.

NBC 5 Consumer Specialist Deanna Dewberry reached out to the company that manages the Century Medical District Apartments. The regional director told Dewberry Chaffin can terminate the lease but it will cost her two month's rent, plus a $990 dollar re-letting fee, more commonly called a penalty fee. The regional director also told Dewberry, "We offered her what is legally obligated in that lease."

Chaffin said with mounting medical bills she has no choice but to stay.

The Texas Tenants Union wants state law to mandate that any victim of violent crime be released from their lease agreement.

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