Domestic violence: Your right to terminate your lease for safety reasons

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

If you or someone you live with is afraid of getting hurt from domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking or has experienced these things in the past 3 months, you can end your tenancy early.  

The law that allows you to end your tenancy early is M.G.L. c. 186, § 24, Termination of rental agreement or tenancy by victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking.

Do I qualify to end my tenancy early under this law?

Under the tenancy termination law, you are eligible to end (terminate) if you have experienced the following:

  • Domestic violence: Violence, or threats of violence, from someone in your family or from someone who lives with you.
  • Rape: Sex without consent.
  • Sexual assault: Unwanted sexual contact.
  • Stalking: Behavior directed toward someone that would make people feel unsafe or very distressed.
How do I terminate my tenancy if it is no longer safe to stay in my home?

To get the legal protection available, you must:

  1. Write, email, or text your landlord. Tell them:
    1. You are breaking your lease under Massachusetts G.L. c. 186, § 24.
    2. You or someone you live with qualifies as a victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking.
    3. What date you are moving out.
  2. Move out within 3 months of the date you write to your landlord. Confirming that you have moved out in writing is best practice, if possible.
  3. Give your landlord proof if they ask for it.  

If you live in public or subsidized housing or if you have a Section 8 or other voucher, you may have other options that allow you to move.

Do I have to give my landlord proof that I qualify for the statute?

If your landlord does not ask for proof that you are dealing with domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking, you do not have to give them anything.

But your landlord can ask for proof.  

If the landlord asks for proof and you want the protection of this law, you must give them proof.

What kind of documentation can I give as proof of domestic violence?

You can give any of the following documents as proof:

  • A current 209A Restraining Order that protects you, a co-tenant, or any member of your household.
  • A current 258E Harassment Prevention Order that protects you, a co-tenant, or any member of your household.
  • A court document like an Affidavit or Court Order that talks about domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking.
  • A police report of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking. Or,
  • A letter from a “qualified” person that says you reported or are dealing with one of these issues. You must read the letter, swear that the statements are true, and sign it.

"Qualified” people are: licensed medical providers; active licensed social workers; licensed mental health professionals; sexual assault counselors; domestic violence victims' counselors, police officer or law enforcement professionals, like a district attorney, assistant district attorney, a victim-witness advocate, probation or parole officer, employees of the Victims Services Unit of the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services; employees of the Department of Children and Families or the Department of Transitional Assistance, or managers or designated domestic violence or abuse advocates in either department.

  • In the letter the qualified third party must:
    • Confirm that you reported the incident to the agency.
    • Include the name of the organization, agency, clinic, or professional service provider.
    • Include the date of the incident.
    • Include the name of the abuser if they know it.
    • You must also sign the letter under the pains and penalties of perjury confirming that the incident described the verification is true and correct.

Your landlord cannot share this information with anyone, unless:

  • You write to your landlord and say it is okay to share the information, or
  • A court orders your landlord to share the information.
If I have already left my apartment, can I terminate my tenancy?

Yes, as long as you give notice to the landlord within 3 months of the last incident and you left within those 3 months.

Will I owe my landlord any money if I terminate my tenancy early?

You do not have to pay and your landlord cannot charge you rent after the “quitting date.” The quitting or move-out date is either:  

  • The day you move out with all your things, or
  • If you already moved out, the date you gave your landlord notice that you moved out.

Whichever date is later, that is your “quitting date.” If your lease or a provision of law would otherwise require an early termination fee, M.G.L. c 186, §24 excuses you from having to pay that. 

To learn more about rent, see Rent Basics

Can I get my last month’s rent and security deposit back?

Last month’s rent

If you paid all the rent due through the quitting date, the landlord should give you back any amount that you paid for beyond the quitting date and any “last month’s rent” you pre-paid when you moved in to the apartment.  

Security deposit

  • If you were the only tenant, the landlord must comply with all aspects of the security deposit law and send you your security deposit within 30 days of the quitting date. See Getting Your Security Deposit Back.
  • If another tenant is living in the apartment, you must wait for the end of your original lease to get your security deposit back, which the landlord must return in compliance with the security deposit law.
What if the abuser or other adults are also on the lease?

You still have the right to terminate your tenancy. Everyone else who stays in the apartment still has responsibility under the tenancy agreement. Only you no longer owe rent. The landlord is not required to return the security deposit until all the tenants have vacated. See Security Deposit Basics.

What should I do if my landlord is refusing to allow me to terminate my tenancy?

If your safety allows you to, you can take your landlord to court for a housing court restraining order, asking the judge to order the landlord to comply with the law and allow you to terminate your tenancy. See Legal Tactics, Chapter 13: When to Take Your Landlord to Court.

If your safety situation is too high-risk to do this, you can move out and then defend against any claims for money owed or breach of contract the landlord might bring against you after the fact. 

What should I do if my landlord claims I owe rent or fees after I move out?

If your landlord takes any collection actions against you for rent or fees charged due to your early tenancy termination, you can dispute the debt and defend against any collection action by referencing the tenancy termination law. If your landlord is in the business of being a landlord (anyone other than an owner-occupier of a 2- or 3-unit home you rent), you can also bring a lawsuit against your landlord for engaging in unfair or deceptive practices by trying to collect debt from you that you do not owe. See Legal Tactics, Chapter 13: When to Take Your Landlord to Court.

What are my options if I live in subsidized housing?

If you live in subsidized housing and are facing domestic violence, you can ask your housing agency for a transfer to a different unit or building. 

If you have a Section 8 voucher and are facing domestic violence, you can ask for a “new search voucher.” If you need to move for safety reasons before you have lived someplace for one year, you can terminate the tenancy without violating the Section 8 rules.  

If you need to relocate to another city or state, you can apply to have your voucher “ported” to the housing authority that covers the new location.

Tell the housing agency that you need to move because you are concerned about safety, and provide documentation if the housing provider requests that you verify your need to move.

If you move without talking to your housing agency, you may lose your subsidy or voucher. You may also not get future public or subsidized housing because you “abandoned” your housing. 

Enforcing your rights

Why do I have to write to my landlord before I leave?

If you tell your landlord about your abuse in writing, your landlord cannot legally:

  • Charge you rent after you leave your apartment;
  • Charge you fees or extra money for breaking your lease;
  • Report to credit agencies that you stopped paying rent on your credit report; or
  • Create a public record that a future landlord, job, or bank can search that shows:
    • Non-payment of rent,
    • Eviction, or
    • That you broke your lease.

If you prepaid any rent, your landlord must return the money for months after you moved out.

If your landlord does any of the above, you would have a defense to challenge these actions. See Legal Tactics, Chapter 13: When to Take Your Landlord to Court

Important: Your landlord can only share your information if:

  • You write to your landlord and say it is okay to share the information. Or,
  • A court orders your landlord to share the information. 
What will happen if I do not write to my landlord?

If you leave and do not write to your landlord, or you do not give them proof if they ask for it, your landlord can:

  • Take you to court because you did not pay all the rent you agreed to in your lease.
  • Report you to the credit reporting agencies and say you did not pay rent. If this happens, you will have a mark on your credit report for not paying rent.
  • File an eviction case against you in court. If this happens, you will have a court record of the eviction your future landlords can see.
  • Make it hard for you to get a new apartment if your landlord sued you for not paying rent.
  • Make it hard for you to get subsidized, public, or Section 8 housing if your landlord sued you for not paying rent. 
Resource Boxes
Más recursos
Who to call for help with domestic violence
DV - Who to call for help

Call 911 if you are in danger right now.

If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

See Jane Doe's list of Massachusetts domestic violence programs and court resources for safety and support.


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