Domestic Violence and Terminating a Lease

A lease on a residence, whether it be an apartment, townhouse or a single family home, is a binding contract between two parties, with both parties being  obligated to honor the terms of the agreement.  Even though it is a binding contract, there are certain state and federal laws that do allow tenants to break leases in some situations.  One situation or circumstance in which a tenant can terminate a lease is when they are the victim of domestic violence.

Some states, but not all, have laws that allow victims of domestic violence to terminate their residential lease.

One state which allows a tenant who is the victim of domestic violence to terminate the lease is the state of Washington.  To legally terminate the lease, the victim must meet two requirements.  The tenant must first notify the landlord in writing that she was a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, or stalking.  Then the tenant must also have a valid order for protection or has reported the domestic violence to a qualified third party, who must provide the tenant a signed record of the incident.  The tenant then needs to provide the landlord with either a copy of the order of protection or the report signed by the qualified third party.  The tenant may then terminate the lease and leave the premises without further obligation under the lease agreement.  Although the lease termination law does vary from state to state, the process is similar in most states, though there are those states which require the tenant to be current on their rent and to pay the following month’s rent to be legally released from the lease.

Currently under Florida law, there is no legal basis for a victim of domestic violence to break a lease.  However, due to the volatile nature of the situation, it may be wise for a landlord to release the tenant from the lease.  Even though the tenant may have an order of protection against the perpetrator, this doesn’t ensure the perpetrator will honor the injunction and will stay away from the premises.  He may return to the premise, commit an act of violence upon the victim, who may then hold the landlord accountable for injuries received during the assault.  In Florida, termination of leases on the basis of domestic violence are taken case by case.  It is up to the judge’s discretion, not the law, whether or not the victim will be able to break the lease agreement.

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