Can a Tenant Break a Lease Due to Domestic Violence?

Last Updated: October 10, 2023 by Phil Ahn

Tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or sexual abuse can terminate their lease early so long as they have proof of the violence and notify the landlord in writing within a specific period.

What Qualifies as Domestic Violence?

For an act of domestic violence to qualify as grounds for breaking a lease, all must be true:

  1. It is committed against the tenant or child of a tenant by a household member
  2. It is intended to result in harm, injury, or sexual assault OR it reasonably places the victim in fear of imminent harm or assault

Many states protect tenants who are victims of domestic violence. Some protections available for victims of domestic violence include:

  • Termination of Lease. Landlords cannot refuse to terminate a lease when the tenant is a victim of domestic violence. Once the tenant meets the requirements, they will have the ability to terminate the lease.
  • Protection from termination. Landlords cannot refuse to rent to a potential tenant because they were a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
  • Changing locks. If a tenant requests the landlord to change the locks and they fail to do so within 24 hours of your request, a tenant will be able to do so on their own.

Additionally, landlords cannot end a lease or refuse to renew a lease because the tenant was a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

How Does a Tenant Prove or Verify Domestic Violence?

A tenant can prove or verify domestic violence by providing the landlord with one of the following:

  • A copy of a court issued order such as:
    • A temporary injunction
    • A temporary order
    • A protective order
    • An order of emergency protection
  • A copy of documentation of the violence against the tenant or occupant from:
    • A licensed health care services provider who examined the victim
    • A licensed mental health services provider who examined the victim

A landlord can verify domestic violence through one of the following:

  • Examining the official court document received from the tenant, and cross-reference whether the judge’s signature matches one of the current judges presiding over the state
  • Obtaining the contact information for the healthcare provider to corroborate whether the documentation the tenant provided is factually accurate

How to Terminate a Lease Due to Domestic Violence

A tenant can terminate a lease due to domestic violence by providing the landlord proof of the violence and a notice of termination.

Notifying the Landlord

A tenant exercising their right to terminate the lease due to domestic violence must provide one type of supporting documentation of the violence and a notification letter of termination to their landlord or landlord’s agent. This notice can be delivered either in-person or through certified mail. 

Terminating the Lease

The lease will terminate within a certain time after delivery of the notice. Generally, the lease will terminate within 30 days of delivering notice, but certain states, like Maine, enforce a different time period for termination such as 14 days

State Lease Terminated Within
Alabama No Statute
Alaska No Statute
Arizona 30 Days
Arkansas 30 Days
California 30 Days
Colorado 30 Days
Connecticut Not Specified
Delaware 30 Days
Florida No Statute
Georgia Not Specified
Hawaii Not Specified
Idaho No Statute
Indiana 30 Days
Iowa Not Specified
Kansas Not Specified
Kentucky Not Specified
Louisiana Not Specified
Maine 14 Days
Maryland 30 Days
Massachusetts 90 Days
Michigan Not Specified
Minnesota 30 Days
Mississippi Not Specified
Missouri Not Specified
Montana Not Specified
Nebraska Not Specified
Nevada Not Specified
New Hampshire 30 Days
New Jersey 30 Days
New Mexico Not Specified
New York 30 Days
North Carolina 30 Days
North Dakota 30 Days
Ohio 30 Days
Oklahoma Not Specified
Oregon 14 Days
Pennsylvania Not Specified
Rhode Island Not Specified
South Carolina Not Specified
South Dakota Not Specified
Tennessee 30 Days
Texas 30 Days
Utah 30 Days
Vermont Not Specified
Virginia Not Specified
Washington 30 Days
Washington, D.C. Not Specified
West Virginia Not Specified
Wisconsin 30 Days
Wyoming 30 Days

Tenant Liabilities

The tenant will be liable for the remaining unpaid rent on a prorated basis. For example, if the notice was delivered on the 23rd of March, and the rent is due on the 1st of each month, the earliest the lease can terminate is May 1st. Therefore, rent is still due for the month of April.

The tenant will also be liable for any damages, such as property damages incurred during the duration of the tenancy.