Q: Can I break a lease if my personal relationship turns violent?

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Q: Can I break a lease if my personal relationship turns violent?

Q: Can I break a lease if my personal relationship turns violent?

answer-icon-masterBreaking a LeaseThank you for writing! You gave us a Nevada zip code. If you can’t get the cops to arrest the cretin who’s been using violence against you, get out. The law will back you up.  I’m going to start with information relevant to your situation specifically.

Next, I’m going to write something for other victims of domestic violence who may have come across this column from Web searching outside of Nevada. 

Finally, I’m going to address concerns of landlords and property managers who may have tenants with domestic violence issues.

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Thanks to Nevada Assembly Bill 284, which became law on July 31st of last year, victims of domestic violence can break a lease simply by giving a landlord written notice. Furthermore, the landlord is forbidden by law from withholding your security deposit, if any, because you terminated the lease early in accordance with this law (though he or she may still withhold some or all of the security deposit if there is damage to the apartment.) If your abuser is responsible for the damage, you would have a claim against him (or her, as the case may be. Same-sex domestic violence is sadly not uncommon, either).

The lease termination will occur 30 days after the notice or as of the end of the current rental period, whichever occurs sooner. You can find a sample letter that will pass legal muster at this link – just fill in the details as appropriate. 

Don’t feel bad about it. No landlord likes to lose a good tenant. But I’ve never met a landlord or property manager who wants to see a tenant stay in a place where she is getting beaten up and may get severely hurt. 

Let me give you a few resources specific to your community, before moving on to a more general discussion: 

  • Las Vegas domestic abuse hotline: 702-646-4981
  • Family violence protective orders: 702-455-3400
  • Safe Nest Shelter: 702-646-4981
  • Crossroads family shelter: 385-2777
  • Shade Tree Shelter: 385-4596
  • For counseling: Safe Nest: 702-877-0133

If you are a recipient or beneficiary of a Section 8 federal housing voucher, read below because there are some issues that will be of interest to you, such as the possibility of a bifurcation of a lease or Section 8 voucher. 

Stay safe, and good luck.

For Other Domestic Violence Victims

Now, for other readers who may not be covered under the Nevada law referenced above: Some states grant more options under state law than others. You can find your relevant state laws by clicking on one of the links here (scroll down a bit). There’s another useful summary of domestic violence-related laws here. It was last updated in June 2013, though, so the Nevada paragraph is already out of date.  

Victims of domestic violence nationwide seeking help, counseling or shelter can call 1-800-799-7233.

For Landlords and Property Managers

It would be a good idea to go to the site linked to immediately above and take a look at domestic violence-related laws in your state’s landlord-tenant code. For those who are managers of public housing facilities, you should know that the Violence Against Women Act prohibits discriminating against anyone for being a victim or former victim of domestic violence. This goes for any landlords who are participating in the Section 8 program as well. 

Further, if you are a public housing authority manager or project-based Section 8 landlord, you also cannot evict a tenant simply for being a victim of domestic violence or dating violence. 

Some landlords and managers attempt to hide behind a ‘zero tolerance’ policy. The thinking seems to be that landlords can avoid future problems simply by evicting anyone who has a report of criminal activity in their apartment or dwelling – including someone who’s been victimized by a domestic abuser. 

Under the Violence Against Women Act, you can only evict a tenant based on the domestic violence perpetrated against her only if the failure to evict the tenant would result in an “actual and imminent threat” to other tenants or staff. 

Other Discrimination Provisions

Landlords participating in the Section 8 housing program and their property managers are prohibited by law from discriminating against an applicant or tenant simply because she (or he) has been a victim of domestic violence. Again, Section 8 landlords cannot evict a tenant on the basis of domestic violence victimhood unless the landlord can show an actual and imminent threat to other tenants or staff if the landlord fails to evict. 

Can I Evict One Person And Allow The Rest of the Household to Remain? 

Generally, yes, and that’s true for Section 8 landlords and for other landlords: It is possible can evict one individual from a property and let the rest of the household stay. 

The process is called bifurcation. In the case of Section 8 tenants, the housing authority may cut off the abuser from housing assistance. The landlord can also ‘bifurcate’ the lease.

Now, naturally, if you evict a breadwinner from a dwelling but you don’t want to evict the rest of the household, you as a landlord then have a problem: Your rental income is potentially disrupted. You aren’t in the domestic abuse shelter business and your real estate practice isn’t a charity. 

Even if you don’t evict the remainder of the family, it may be time to clear the way for them to leave a property they can’t afford, with a favorable reference from you as their former landlord to make things easier on them. You can even cut them a break on their security deposit. 

This is a much better, cheaper and less traumatic course of action then letting a family that just can’t afford to stay, through no fault of their own, fall behind on the rent by a month or two, and then face an eviction on their record regardless. This would make it much harder for them to rent the next apartment. 

Charities and Social Services

If you have a borderline case, you can also refer the family to a number of rental and housing assistance programs local to you. Catholic Charities, for example, runs an Eviction Protection Program to help families with short-term assistance that is strong in many cities.

The same is true of the Salvation Army. These programs are usually run at the local level, so start your search with your own community. There are more, of course. Here is a page to get you and your tenants started. 

It’s better to do this and give a struggling family some breathing room than to let them get overwhelmed with back rent and still face eviction. This assistance won’t be a permanent solution, but it can give the family a little breathing room while they make some other housing arrangements that are more affordable and realistic for them. 

Author Bio
Writing about personal finance and investments since 1999, started as a reporter with Mutual Funds Magazine and served as editor of Investors’ Digest. He now publishes feature articles in many publications including Annuity Selling Guide, Bankrate.com, and more.
Author Bio for Jason Van Steenwyk

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