When you’re a victim of domestic violence, the last thing you should have to worry about is your lease. In Washington, the laws protect you by giving you the right to end your lease early—without paying a penalty, and without your landlord’s approval. You’ll have to provide documentation of the domestic abuse, though.
Can I legally break my lease because of domestic violence in Washington?
Yes. If you’re experiencing any domestic violence, you can legally break your lease under Washington law. That’s true whether the person harming you is a family member, a current or former roommate, someone you have a child with, or someone you currently (or used to) date. You can even break your lease if your landlord is the one abusing or harassing you.
What's considered domestic violence in Washington?
You may think that domestic violence is just physical harm. But emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse are also forms of domestic violence under the law. In Washington, any of the following are considered domestic violence:1
- Physical or sexual assault
- Causing fear of immediate harm or assault
- Unwanted verbal sexual contact
- Actions causing you to fear for your children
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 state law.
If you’re the victim of any instance of domestic violence, whether from an intimate partner or landlord, it’s a good idea to speak to a domestic violence counselor and get a protective order. You’ll need a protective order (or report from a qualified third party) to legally get out of your lease.
What's the process for breaking my lease?
If you or anyone in your residence, including children, are experiencing domestic violence, you’ll need to follow these steps to legally break your lease:2
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 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. (You can find a sample letter here. 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.
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.3 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. The law states that you must provide your landlord a copy of the report or protective order within seven days of moving out (by mail, fax, or personal delivery by a third party). The report shouldn’t include the name of the abuser, though the landlord can request the name if it’s an employee.
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.
If you’re experiencing domestic violence from your landlord or one of their employees, you also have the right to change your locks (or add additional ones to your door). You’re still required to notify your landlord that you’ve done so within seven days and provide documentation of the incident, but it could offer some protection and peace of mind while prepare to leave.
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 within 21 days. Your landlord can’t deduct for 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.