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Frequently Asked Questions About Domestic Violence and Rental Housing for Tenants

Authored By: D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center

FAQ

Can I get out of my lease agreement?

Yes. You can get out of your lease agreement by giving the landlord:

  • A copy of a civil protection order received in response to a petition you filed, OR
  • Giving the landlord documentation signed by a "qualified third party" showing that you reported the domestic violence to the third party. A "qualified third party" may be a police officer, a sworn officer of the D.C. Housing Authority Office of Public Safety, a health professional, or a domestic violence counselor.

How quickly can I get out of the lease?

You can get out of the lease as soon as

  • 14 days after you give the landlord written notice you want to end the lease AND the documents mentioned above OR
  • As soon as after a new tenant takes over the unit, if that happens before the 14 days is over.

How soon do I have to decide whether I want to get out of my lease after the domestic violence?

You must make the request to your landlord within 90 days of the reported domestic violence.

Will I have to pay penalties for breaking the lease?

No. The most you will have to pay is ½ month's rent. But it could be less.

You will only have to pay your normal monthly rent, pro-rated to the earlier of:

  • The date a new tenant takes over the unit, OR
  • 14 days after you request to get out of the lease (about ½ month's rent)

Is my landlord required to change the locks on my doors if I ask?

Yes. If you request in writing for the landlord to change your locks, s/he must do so within 5 business days.

Do I have to show my landlord any official documentation before s/he is required to change the locks?

It depends.

  • If the offender is a tenant in the same unit as you, then you must give the landlord a copy of the protection order that orders the offender to stay away from your home.
  • If the offender is not a tenant or does not live in the same unit as you, then no documentation of the domestic violence is required.

Who has to pay for having the locks changed?

The landlord must pay to have the locks changed, but you must reimburse the landlord within 45 days. The landlord cannot charge you any more than s/he would charge any other tenant.

What if the offender, who is still on the lease, asks the landlord for a key to the new lock?

Unless the court orders the offender to be allowed back into the unit, the landlord cannot give him/her a key.

If the landlord changes the locks, does that mean the offender is released from the lease agreement?

No. Even though the locks were changed, the offender is still legally responsible for paying rent under the lease agreement. Even though the offender is still legally responsible for paying the rent, if the rent is not paid, the landlord may be able to evict the people living in the unit.

This means that you may need to pay the rent yourself to avoid being evicted for nonpayment of rent. If you pay the rent yourself, you may be able to sue the offender to get back some or all of the money that he or she is responsible for paying.

If the disturbance from the domestic violence was a violation of my lease agreement, can I be evicted because of it?

It depends.

  • If you have received a civil or temporary protection order that ordered the offender to vacate the home, your landlord cannot have you evicted.
  • If you have only filed for (but not yet received) a protection order or if you give the judge a copy of a police report less than 60 days old, it is in the judge's discretion.

Before filing an eviction action in Landlord and Tenant Court, the landlord usually must serve a 30-day "Notice to Correct or Vacate," or a "Notice to Vacate." For more information, see Frequently Asked Questions by Tenants.

If you get a Notice to Correct and/or Vacate, or if you receive a summons for court, talk to a lawyer right away.

Last Review and Update: Sep 02, 2011