Updated January 2022
When a tenant breaks a lease agreement, it’s sure to cause additional property management problems. However, there may be circumstances where the tenant has a good reason to do so. One of the most common scenarios is when there is domestic violence.
Landlords must know what to do when tenants are breaking a lease due to domestic violence. From protection orders to assisting in protecting victims, you may become involved in a severe matter if one of your tenants needs to break their lease because of domestic violence.
This guide covers additional information about getting out of a lease due to domestic violence, what types of plans you should develop for these situations, and more. By the time you’re finished reading, you should have a solid grasp of what to do if confronted with this issue.
Table Of Contents On Domestic Violence And Breaking A Lease
Tenants trapped in a dangerous situation may want to know how to break a lease due to domestic violence—are you prepared to make it possible? Learn what to do with this complete informational guide from RentPrep:
- Why Is Breaking A Lease Due To Domestic Violence Necessary?
- State Laws About Getting Out Of A Lease Due To Domestic Violence
- What Happens Next? Domestic Violence & Apartment Leases Ending
- How To Break A Lease Due To Domestic Violence: Make It Easy
- FAQs On Breaking Lease Due To Domestic Issues
More than 10 million women and men experience domestic abuse each year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That’s 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men, so it’s an issue that landlords are likely to run into at some point during their property management career.
This type of violence is defined as the abuse of a spouse or partner and includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. Often, children are also involved or are witnesses to the abuse.
In these situations, experts recommend that the victim leave the situation and the abuser as soon as possible for their own protection. Even if a victim of domestic violence is part of a rental agreement obligating them to stay and pay rent, doing so would be an extreme threat to their well-being.
There are often situations where a tenant loves where they live and gets along well with their landlord, but staying simply would not be safe or possible due to the ongoing abuse. For this reason, landlords and lawmakers must consider the plight of domestic abuse victims when it comes to getting out of a lease agreement.
Can you break your lease due to domestic violence, and is this something that landlords should allow? For the good of tenants and the community, many states have enacted laws that will enable people suffering from domestic violence to break their lease agreements.
These laws ensure that the conditions for breaking due to domestic violence a lease carry minimum penalties to help them get out of the situation quickly. Most states with these laws require that the victim provide the landlord with either a valid order of protection or a report from a qualified third party. Commonly involved third parties include the police, a healthcare professional, or domestic violence advocate.
Additionally, every state typically takes time to define precisely what domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and other vital terms mean in the state. These legal definitions will be necessary during court proceedings if things get to that stage, so it’s essential to make sure you understand what is and what is not considered domestic abuse in your state.
Should one of your tenants come to you with a report on domestic violence, sexual assault, or a similar situation, you might be at a loss for what to do. That’s where this guide will help you.
Landlords are likely to have many questions the first time they are dealing with a tenancy ending due to domestic violence. In particular, they might question the following:
In most cases, the victim is responsible for the rent for the entire month in which they vacated the property if they are on the lease agreement. If the accused abuser is the only one on the lease agreement, the victim can leave without any strings attached. However, this can get complicated.
If both parties are on the lease agreement, the victim should pay rent according to the original agreement. The survivor might ask you to split the lease, which is allowed in some states so that only the abuser is evicted. It is typically left to your discretion to agree to this or not.
If everyone involved is refusing to pay rent, consider whether or not it will be worth your time to pursue eviction or a small court claim. In some cases, it might be best to move forward with rerenting the unit as soon as possible rather than getting wrapped up in a complicated situation that is sure only to get more complex as the abuse is investigated.
Should I change the locks?
Some require the landlord to change locks per the victim’s request at no cost until they vacate the property. Even if this is not required in your state, ensuring that your tenant is safe from their abuser can be a huge help. Not only will it allow them to feel safe while at home, but it can also provide genuine protection to prevent further abuse or sexual assault.
Though typical landlord education tells you to never change the locks on your tenant, most states have exceptions to this law when a report of abuse or protection order is in place. As long as the survivor has shown you this documentation, it is within your rights to change the locks on their behalf.
Yes, it’s best if tenants give a written notice about their intention to break their lease, just as they would need to do to terminate a lease for any other reason. Though the terms of their termination may be less severe due to the cause, due process should still be followed where possible.
Many states, such as Nevada, have sample forms that tenants can use to let you know they will be terminating their lease due to domestic violence. This simple form provides the information you as a landlord need to terminate the lease and stay informed.
It might be beneficial to your tenants to create your own version of this written notice and include it with any tenant form bundles that you share with your tenants. This will enable survivors of abuse and sexual assault to quickly and easily loop you into their situation and future plans if things get serious at home.
Depending in which state the situation occurs, the security deposit is not refundable or is partially refundable. Most laws attempt to balance the landlord’s needs with the victims’ trials. Whether or not you must give back the deposit or not, however, may depend on who the laws in your state tend to favor: landlords or tenants.
There’s no doubt this is a challenging situation for everyone involved. The laws are another complicated aspect, but they are essential to preventing domestic abuse from persisting when possible.
Landlords must check out the laws on this topic for their state, so they know exactly what to do to protect their financial interests as well as the well-being of the victim.
No landlord wants to permit tenants to terminate their lease agreement early without penalty, but this is a situation where priorities need to reside elsewhere.
It’s imperative to know the law before any domestic violence incident occurs. You must comply with the regulations as outlined in your state.
If your state doesn’t have specific laws about domestic violence and lease agreements, you should create your own policy. Make sure it is a generous policy that enables the victim’s safety as much as possible.
Ultimately, landlords want to keep good tenants in place, but domestic violence can change everything about a lease agreement. If a domestic abuse survivor needs to vacate, landlords should make it as easy as possible to help them get to a better and safer situation.
Don’t complicate it—things are challenging enough for your tenant already. Be part of the system that helps them escape to a better life.
You might be curious about what practicing, experienced landlords are saying about this situation. Here’s a screenshot of landlords discussing this question in our private Facebook group for landlords:
You can see even more comments on that post by checking it out in the group. Reading about the experiences of other landlords as they worked through a situation like yours may be beneficial in finding comfort with your own resolution.
When dealing with domestic violence situations, you want to help the survivor relocate and move on to a healthier place as soon as possible. To do this, however, it will be essential to have your documentation, company procedures, and more in place already.
We recommend that landlords have templates for all of the forms they need. From lease agreements to tenancy termination documents, having all of this on file before you need it will help provide clarity and speed to any situation.
Get started with all the forms you need as a landlord with our Starter Kit. These forms, which you can easily modify to suit your business needs, will make your job easier every step of the way.
As you work as a landlord, you’ll develop additional forms and procedures that will make it possible to deal with complex situations as smoothly as possible.
As a landlord, you may come across a few tenants that are perpetrators of domestic violence or a victim themselves. In either scenario, here are a few questions that may come to mind.
Any time that a tenant decides to end their tenancy earlier than stated in the rental agreement is considered breaking a lease. Even if there are no strict punishments for doing so, it is still breaking the lease.
Breaking a lease can occur in many situations:
- Tenant got a new job and decided to relocate mid-lease
- Tenant is getting married and will be moving in with their spouse
- Tenant doesn’t like the area and wants to move
As discussed in today’s guide, tenants involved in domestic abuse may also break the lease to escape a dangerous situation.
The exact terms of what will happen when a rental lease agreement is broken will depend on many factors:
- Your state and city laws
- What the original lease agreement says
- What you, as the landlord, agree to as a concession to the tenant
- What is happening that is causing the termination
Landlords never want to end a lease early, but it’s sometimes for the best. Slow down and consider how to handle an early lease termination the right way to prevent any unnecessary confusion, harm, or financial loss to anyone involved.
Can you break your lease due to domestic violence if you have a restraining order against your cotenant? Tenants may have this question, but ultimately, as the landlord, you are not the one that determines the answer. Often, courts that issue restraining orders will also issue rules about who can stay where and what should happen to shared spaces.
That said, most states also have laws that give landlords the right to step in and help protect the abuse survivor. In Kentucky, for example, landlords are permitted to pursue eviction for the named individuals on a protection order and refuse them access to the property.
For the best understanding of what happens next when one of your tenants is granted a restraining order, search for your state laws on tenant rights and domestic problems such as violence. This will let you know what tools are available and how to handle any related leases.
Tenants who need to break their lease because of abuse may worry about its effect on their credit score. However, remind them that they don’t need to worry about this.
Breaking a lease does not affect a tenant’s credit score unless their rent goes unpaid for a few months and you, the landlord, send it to collections. In domestic abuse cases, the provisions surrounding and protecting victims will also ensure they are not on the hook for rent for more than a month once the abuse is reported. In their situation, breaking the lease will not affect their credit.
Tenants that have not or cannot report their abuse may talk to you directly about breaking the lease in an attempt to find a safe way out. You and your tenant are always able to negotiate early termination terms. As long as the terms are within the bounds of state laws and all parties agree, it is possible to terminate a lease early.
If a tenant comes to you with this type of request, take it seriously and work with them to find a solution. While you can also encourage the individual to report the situation, this is not always an option for many reasons. Keep that in mind, and act with compassion as you work to find a resolution that will work for you both.
Be Prepared For The Worst
As landlords, we never want to imagine our tenants going through domestic abuse and needing to escape a dangerous, unsafe situation. However, it is something that you may need to face.
When a tenant comes to you desperately asking, “Can I break my lease due to domestic violence?” you want to be ready to help them do what needs to be done quickly and efficiently. As a business owner in your community, protecting tenants and individuals in the community should always be a priority.
Prepare for the worst; create a procedure for your team to follow in this type of situation. Know how the lease termination will be handled with the least impact on your finances. Ensure you have local resources and contact numbers available to provide to tenants as needed and for your own education. With a little bit of preparation, you can make a big difference while also protecting the future of your business.