It’s unfortunate, but this is a topic that needs to be addressed despite that many states still do not offer special protections to tenants who are victims of domestic violence. Being bound by the terms of a lease agreement can make a traumatic situation even more difficult to manage.
Because many state laws are ever-changing, it’s always best if you’re a victim to contact your local law enforcement, courthouse, domestic violence prevention advocates or related professionals for up to date information on your rights as a tenant.
Some of the common protections for tenants may include:
Changing Locks: As long as proper proof is available, a few states such as Utah and Virginia require landlords to change the locks on the unit for the protection of the victim and to do so without charging for it.
Eviction: A number of states (such as Colorado, Iowa, Washington and more) make it illegal to terminate a lease on someone who is a victim of domestic violence. Some even allow the landlord to evict just the abuser.
Discrimination: Many state anti discrimination laws are in place to prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to a person who has been a victim of domestic violence.
Breaking a Lease: For those victims that have very little choice but to move after an incident of domestic violence, states such as Washington, have laws in place to allow a tenant break a lease with reasonable notice (30 days). However, some form of proof is often required. Depending on your state’s law, acceptable forms of proof often include court issued protection orders or reports from health care professionals, state court employees, mental health professionals, clergy members or domestic violence/crime prevention advocates.
Lease Agreement Restrictions: A rental agreement shall not provide that the tenant must waive his/her right to summon a peace officer or other emergency assistance in response to domestic violence incident nor can landlords make tenants pay for the cost of such calls for help.
Section 8 Tenants: Domestic violence victims may terminate a lease and move without affecting their elibility for public housing assistance as long as proper notification and proof is given. This is a federal law applied to all 50 states in order to protect someone who is or has been a domestic violence victim and “reasonably believed” that they were imminently threatened by harm from further violence. (Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, 42 U.S. Code § 1437f(5).)
It’s important to note: That failure to pay rent usually gives the landlord the right to terminate regardless of the circumstances. So if the abuser vacates the property leaving the remaining victim unable to afford to pay the rent, the landlord may provide a notice to pay or quit.