You are here

Can I break my lease if I live with domestic violence?

Produced by Community Legal Aid
Created March, 2021

Anyone can move out and break their lease. But the results can be costly. Usually,

  • You may still owe the landlord rent for some months that are left on your lease.
  • You may have to pay a fee for breaking your lease.
  • Your old landlord will give a bad reference.
  • Your landlord could sue you for owed rent.
  • A new landlord may not rent to you because your old landlord took you to court.
  • Your credit report could show:
    • A collection case for the rent you owe. Or,
    • Your landlord got a judgment against you for rent you owe.

But if you or someone in your household is escaping domestic violence, fear domestic violence, rape, or stalking, you can leave to stay safe.  See What if it is not safe to stay in my home and I need to break my lease?

What do I do before I move out?

Give your landlord notice:

If you need to leave for safety reasons give notice right away. See What if it is not safe to stay in my home and I need to break my lease?

If you need to leave for another reason:

  • If you have a lease or agreement read the sections “breaking your lease” and “notice” in your lease or rental agreement. Your lease may not automatically end at the “end date.” Sometimes you have to give your landlord notice or your lease automatically renew. See Moving out.
  • If you do not have a lease, you must give one rental period’s notice, usually 30 days, before moving out. See Moving out.

If you cannot give enough notice, talk to your landlord and explain you need to move.  Get your landlord’s permission in writing.

What if it is not safe to stay in my home and I need to break my lease?

If you or someone in your household is escaping domestic violence, or fear domestic violence, and you need to break your lease to stay safe, the law protects you. The same law protects survivors of rape, sexual assault or stalking. To get this legal protection you must:

  • Write to your landlord. Tell them:
  • You are moving.
  • And
    • You or someone in your household survived domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking within the last 3 months. Or,
    • You or someone in your household is concerned about their safety because of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking. Or,
    • Both. If it is both, tell your landlord.
  • Move out within 3 months of the date you write to your landlord.
  • Give your landlord proof if they ask for it.
  • You can break your lease:

  • Any time you are “reasonably in fear of imminent serious physical harm,” from domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking or,
  • Up to 3 months after the most recent act of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking.

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.

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

If:

  • You or someone in your household survived domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking in the last 3 months, or
  • You are “reasonably in fear of imminent serious physical harm,” and
  • You write to your landlord before or after you leave,

your landlord cannot:

  • 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 you leave and you do not write to your landlord, or you do not give them proof if they ask for it, they 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. You will have a mark on your credit report for not paying rent.
  • File an eviction case against you in court. 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.

Important

If you live in public or subsidized housing or have a Section 8 or other voucher, ask for a transfer.

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.

Ask your housing agency for a transfer to a different unit or building. If you have a voucher, ask for a “new search voucher.” Sometimes you can transfer to another town or state.

Tell them you need to move because you are concerned about safety.

Do I have to give my landlord proof?

If your landlord does not ask for proof that you are dealing with domestic abuse, 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 your landlord:

  • 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 you must:
      • Say 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 you know it.
      • Swear that the event described in the verification letter is true.
      • Sign the letter.
  •  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.

What about paying rent?

Your landlord cannot charge you rent after the “quitting date.”  The quitting or move-out date is the later of the days:

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

What about my last month’s rent and security deposit?

Last month’s rent

If you paid all the rent due through the quitting date, the landlord should give you back the “last month’s rent” when you move. If you already moved, they should give you your last month’s rent right away.

Security deposit

If you were the only tenant

The landlord should 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.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
Monday-Friday
between
9am and 4pm