Early Lease Termination for Survivors: Know the Facts

The following is a reprint of The National Housing Law Project’s toolkit concerning California Civil Code § 1946.7.

California Civil Code § 1946.7 allows survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, elder abuse, and dependent adult abuse to end their leases early. This law empowers survivors to leave abusive situations while avoiding the usual penalties associated with breaking a lease. The toolkit is meant to serve as an introduction to the law’s protections, reflects amendments made to the law that are effective this year, and includes materials for both survivor advocates and their clients.

The Right to Break Your Lease to Escape Violence

 Information for Survivors

 

1. What is Civil Code 1946.7?

California Civil Code 1946.7 allows certain victims of abuse who have a restraining order, a police report, or documentation from a qualified third-party to break their leases without owing additional rent.

This law protects victims of:

    • Domestic violence;
    • Sexual assault;
    • Stalking;
    • Human trafficking;
    • Elder abuse; or
    • Dependent adult abuse.

The law also protects family members who live with the victim of abuse.

 

2.   What is the law’s purpose?

 Usually, if you move before your lease ends, you can be held responsible for all the rent that would be owed until your lease expires. Your landlord can sue you for this money. Civil Code 1946.7 allows you to notify your landlord, break the lease, move out, and no longer be required to pay rent.

 

3.   When can I use this law?

 You can use the law if you:

    • Rent and have a lease;
    • Have a restraining order/protective order, a police report, or a signed document from a certain kind of professional; and
    • Need to move because you are, or a family member living with you is, a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, or elder/dependent adult abuse.

 

4.   How do I tell the landlord?

 You must notify your landlord in writing that you are (or a family member living with you is) a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, or elder/dependent adult abuse, and that you want to end the lease. Be sure to date the notice.

 

5.   How much notice must I give the landlord?

 You must give the landlord at least 14 days’ notice before the lease can end. You are free to leave your apartment anytime after giving your landlord the notice. However, you will still be responsible for the rent up to 14 days after  giving the landlord the notice.

 

6.    What type of proof do I need?

 You must give your landlord one of the following:

    • a copy of a restraining order or protective order;
    • a police report showing that you are the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, or elder/ dependent adult abuse; OR
    • a signed document from a certain type of professional that verifies your status as a victim of abuse.

 

7.  If I have a police report or restraining order, how long do I have to break my lease?

 The police report or restraining order/protective order can be no more than 180 days old.

8.  Can I break my lease without a police report or protective order?

 Yes. California Civil Code 1946.7 allows you to break your lease without obtaining a protective order or police report. You can break your lease by obtaining a signed document from a “qualified third party,” or a professional such as a doctor, registered nurse,  psychologist, licensed  clinical social worker, domestic violence or sexual assault counselor, among others. You must also sign this document. If you need help obtaining this type of document, your local legal aid office or domestic violence agency can help prepare the document and direct you to a professional who can sign it.

9.  What needs to go in this document signed by a professional?
 The law contains specific language that should be included in the document. Additionally, the law requires that the victim include a signed statement that he or she has experienced abuse. For help preparing this document, you should contact your local legal aid or domestic violence agency.
10.   What will happen to my security deposit?
 Your deposit will be treated the same way as if you had moved out at the end of your lease. The landlord must return your deposit within 21 days after you leave. The landlord can deduct money for unpaid rent, damages beyond ordinary wear and tear, and cleaning charges.
11.   What if I have a month-to-month rental agreement?
 You may not need to use Civil Code 1946.7 if you have a month-to-month rental agreement. You might be able to move by simply giving your landlord written notice that you will leave the unit in 14 days. However, check with a legal aid attorney to figure out the terms of your rental agreement.
12. What if I have roommates?
 Your roommates can remain in the unit, even after you move out. They must continue to pay the full amount of rent, including your share.
13. Can my landlord tell anyone that I am a victim of abuse?
 The law prohibits your landlord from sharing any information you provide to the landlord about the abuse unless you give the landlord written permission, or the landlord is required to do so by another law or court order. The landlord may contact the professional who signed a document stating you were abused to confirm that the document is true.
14. What if I need help to use the law?
If you believe your landlord isn’t following the law, contact a legal aid attorney, fair housing agency, or domestic violence agency.

For a copy of the above information in English and Spanish, plus:

  • a Q & A for advocates,
  • a sample 14-day notice that can be used to terminate a lease under this law,
  • a template for a qualified third-party statement,
  • safety planning concerns that should be addressed when using the law,
  • and the text of Civil Code 1946.7,

please copy and paste:

http://nhlp.org/files/Early-Lease-Termination-Toolkit-Combined-Advocates-and-.Survivors.pdf

Posted with the help of Lindsay Riedel

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