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Can I Break My Lease Because of Domestic Violence?

When you’re a victim of domestic violence, the last thing you should have to worry about is your lease. Many state laws protect you by giving you the right to end your lease early—without paying a penalty, and without your landlord’s approval - as long as you can provide documentation of the domestic abuse.

In This Article

Defining domestic violence
State laws
Steps to follow
Common questions

What’s considered domestic violence?

You may think that domestic violence is just physical harm. But emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse are also forms of domestic violence under many state laws. Any of the following may be considered domestic violence:

  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Causing fear of immediate harm or assault
  • Unwanted verbal sexual contact
  • Harassment
  • Actions causing you to fear for your children
  • Stalking

In addition to any of the actions listed above, if your landlord requests sexual favors in exchange for rent or anything else, that’s also considered unlawful harassment—which is another valid reason to break your lease under the Fair Housing Act.

Where can I legally break my lease because of domestic violence?

In many jurisdictions, tenants have the right to break their lease early due to domestic violence. Laws regarding lease termination due to domestic violence vary by country, state, and local jurisdiction, so it's important to consult local laws or seek legal advice for specific information relevant to your situation.

States with early termination rights for DV victims

StateEarly termination right
ArizonaRev. Stat. §§ 33-1318
CaliforniaCal. Civ. Code §§ 1161.3
ColoradoColo. Rev. Stat. §§ 38-12-402
ConnecticutConn. Gen. Stat. § 47a-11e
DelawareDel. Code tit. 25, §§ 5314(b)
GeorgiaGa. Code § 44-7-23
HawaiiHaw. Rev. Stat. §§ 521-80
Illinois765 ILCS 750/1
IndianaIN Code § 32-31-9-12
KansasKan. Stat. § 58-25, 137
KentuckyKy. Rev. Stat. §§ 383.300
LouisianaLa. Rev. Stat. § 9:3261.1
MaineMe. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, §§ 6001
MarylandMd. Code Real Prop. §§ 8-5A-02
MassachusettsMass Gen. Laws ch. 186, §§ 24
MichiganMich. Comp. Laws § 554.601b
MinnesotaMinn. Stat. §§ 504B.206
MissouriMo. Rev. Stat. § 441.920
NevadaNev. Rev. Stat. §§ 118A.347
New Jersey§ 46:8-9.5
New YorkN.Y. Real Prop. Law §§ 227-c
North CarolinaN.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 42-45.1
North DakotaN.D. Cent. Code §§ 47-16-17.1
OklahomaOkla. Stat. tit. 41, § 113.3
OregonOr. Rev. Stat. §§ 90.453
South DakotaS.D. Codified Laws §§ 43-32-19.1
TexasTex. Prop. Code §§ 92.016
UtahUtah Code § 57-22-5.1
Vermont9 Vt. Stat. §§ 4472
VirginiaVa. Code §§ 55.1-1236
WashingtonWash. Rev. Code §§ 59.18.352
Washington DCD.C. Code §§ 42-3505.07
WisconsinWis. Stat. §§  704.14
WyomingWyo. Stat. §§ 1-21-1303

How do I break my lease due to domestic violence?

Below are the general steps you will need to follow. It is a good idea to start by reading your state's laws about lease terminations due to domestic violence, since the law may offer more specific instructions about what you must do in your state.

1. Get documentation of the incident(s)

To legally break your lease, you’ll need to obtain official documentation of the domestic violence you’re experiencing. This can take two forms: a protective order or a third-party report.

To get a protective order, you must fill out the required forms in your state and detail any incidents of domestic violence. Once a judge signs it, the abuser must stay away from you.

A third-party report, on the other hand, can come from people like police officers, health care professionals, or domestic violence counselors. The report must detail any incidents of domestic violence and be signed by the third party. Keep in mind, this report only helps you end your lease. It doesn’t create a legal barrier between you and the abuser like a protective order would.

2. Notify your landlord that you’re breaking your lease

Notify your landlord in writing that you’re ending your lease early because of domestic violence. A copy of your protective order or third-party report must be attached to the letter to your landlord. These documents must be sent by mail or fax or be personally delivered to your landlord.

Keep in mind that you only have 90 days from the date of the documented incident to notify your landlord that you plan to break your lease. It’s not 90 days from the date you get a protective order or make a report.

3. Move out and terminate your lease

Once you’ve notified your landlord, you can move out immediately. You’re responsible for any rent due for the month you move out, but that’s it. You’re not required to pay any remaining rent under your lease.

Common questions

What if my landlord is the one abusing or harassing me?

The lease-breaking process is slightly different if your landlord—or one of your landlord’s employees—is the perpetrator. You still have to get a protective order or make a third-party report, but you can move out before notifying your landlord of your intention to leave. Most state laws will require you to provide your landlord with a copy of the report or protective order.

You’re only responsible for rent payments through the day you move out or the day your landlord receives notice that you’ve left, whichever happens last. If you pre-paid rent for the month you moved out, you are entitled to a prorated refund.

Do I get my security deposit back?

When you end your lease because of domestic violence, you’re still entitled to a refund of your security deposit. Your landlord can’t deduct damages other than normal wear and tear, cleaning, and unpaid rent.

What happens to my roommates if I move out?

If you move out of an apartment and break your lease because of domestic violence—and you have roommates—the lease is still valid. Your roommates or other family members can remain in the unit and will still owe rent, as long as their names are also included in the lease.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.