Domestic violence is a relentless issue in the U.S., affecting tenants and landlords. Here are some statistics directly from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV):

  • In the U.S., more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually
  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime
  • An intimate partner most commonly abuses women between the ages of 18-24
  • 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon

With these kinds of statistics, if you’re a landlord, it would be safe to assume that domestic violence could happen at some point on your property, so it would be prudent to understand what your tenants’ rights are and what you can and can’t do if the situation should arise. Keep reading to learn more about your tenants’ rights and responsibilities.

What Are Tenants’ Rights?

No federal laws cover the rights of tenants in domestic violence situations. Many states provide special protection to tenants experiencing domestic violence. As a landlord, you should know what your tenants’ rights are.  Knowing their rights helps you act accordingly to protect your property, your business and possibly help the victim.

*NOTE—If you know someone who is a victim of domestic violence, check with your local law enforcement or battered women’s shelter re: the laws that pertain to the situation.

There are some protections provided by some states that apply to these situations:

  • Early termination rights – Some states allow a tenant to end a lease without penalties after giving the required notice.  Check to see if your state requires that the tenant provide you with proof of their status as a victim, i.e., a protective order.
  • Limits on rental clauses – Some states don’t allow landlords to include provisions that would enable termination should a tenant call the police for help. In addition, the landlord can’t make the tenant pay for the cost associated with the call. Again, check to see what the laws are in your state.
  • Eviction protection and antidiscrimination status—It is illegal to discriminate against a victim of domestic violence in many states. For example, landlords cannot refuse to rent to someone solely based on being a victim of domestic violence.  In addition, landlords can’t terminate a lease strictly because the tenant is a victim of domestic violence.  Check on the laws in your state to find out more.

*NOTE—Check with your state laws to determine what rights your Section 8 tenants are entitled to if you are a landlord of Section 8 tenants.  If there is no law giving victims of domestic violence rights to early termination, don’t assume this is good news for you.  If there is violence of any kind occurring on your property, you don’t want it. 

Letting your Section 8 tenant(s) out of their lease might be good for you—

  • You don’t want a disruptive or violent situation on your property.  You may find that letting your tenant out of their lease is less disrupting even though you’re losing rent money, compared to the possible damage to property, negative publicity, and even lawsuits that can occur.

Domestic Violence: What Is a Landlord’s Responsibility?

Most state laws and statutes are written to describe what a landlord can’t do on their property.

*NOTE—Check your state laws about specific rules and regulations that you must adhere to when finding yourself in a situation with a domestic violence victim.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) outlines regulations about how landlords in the U.S. must treat victims of past or ongoing, or ongoing situations.

What a landlord Can’t Do:

  • Refuse to rent to a potential tenant because the applicant is, or has been, a victim of domestic violence.
  • Evict (terminate a lease) a tenant who is the victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking because of threats or violent acts committed against them. 

Under the Fair Housing Act, also be aware of these possible violations because it could be illegal sex discrimination:

  • Refusing to rent to a female domestic violence survivor
  • Charge a higher security deposit to a female domestic violence survivor because the landlords anticipate more property damage
  • Evict the domestic violence survivor but allows the abuser to stay.

What a Landlord Can Do:

  • If someone is actively violent on your property, you have the right to call the police immediately.
  • If the immediate crisis passed, but you think there are ongoing problems, you can provide the number of The National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233

One question that comes up recurrently is whether a landlord must change locks in a domestic violence situation.  There is no federal regulation or law. Check your state to find out what you, as the landlord, can, can’t, and are required to do in these conditions.

A Final Thought

As a landlord, your concerns are for both your property, its value, your income, and your tenants’ safety.  All kinds of situations can happen, some expected and some not. When it comes to domestic violence and how it can affect your tenants and you, it is best to be prepared and understand your tenants’ rights and your responsibilities.

Thank you for caring not only about your product and service but also about the well-being of your tenants.  Caring can only make for a better landlord-tenant relationship.

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PayRent is on a mission to build a rent collection app that fosters a positive and productive relationship between renters and landlords. We focus less on transactions and more on the people behind them.

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