Landlord/Tenant Issues for Domestic Violence Survivors
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
Learn about how the law can protect you if you are a tenant AND a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment or stalking. #6304EN
* Read this only if you live in the state of Washington.
*Eviction law continues to change. Read about the latest changes to eviction laws.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Should I read this? +
Yes, if you rent the place where you live and you are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking. Washington’s state law has special protections for you.
These protections apply only to:
- residential rentals, such as an apartment or house or
- where you rent both the home and space in a mobile home park
What will I learn from reading this? +
You will learn how state law protects domestic violence survivors:
- You can get out of a lease early.
- You have the right to be free from discrimination by a landlord when signing or renewing a lease.
- If your landlord or someone who works for them has abused, assaulted, or harassed you, you have options.
You will also learn what to do if your landlord is trying to evict you due to an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment, or stalking against you on the rented property, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is domestic violence? +
Washington law says there is domestic violence when someone:
- Hits or assaults you, or harms you physically in any way or
- Causes you to fear immediate physical harm, assault or injury
The person harming or threatening you must be:
- A family member and/or
- Someone you live with or used to live with and/or
- Someone with whom you have or had a dating relationship and/or
- Someone with whom you have a child
*No one has the right to threaten or hurt you. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233. They can help you find support and resources near you. You can use our Get a Domestic Violence Protection Order online interview to create the forms you need and find out how to file them to get this protective court order.
What is sexual assault? +
It is any unwanted sexual contact, physical or verbal.
What is unlawful harassment? +
It is when someone’s pattern of behavior seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses you. This behavior would:
- cause you great emotional distress or
- cause you to fear for your children
It is also when a landlord or property manager makes clear you must do “sexual favors” for them before they will take care of any responsibilities to you.
What is stalking? +
It can be any deliberate threatening, harassing, following, surveilling (watching) and/or coercive behavior that
- happens more than once and
- causes you to fear for your safety, the safety of someone you know, or your property
I am a domestic violence survivor. Can I move without having to pay for the rest of the lease? +
You and/or your household (your children or any adults other than the abuser who live with you), who are domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment and/or stalking survivors may end a lease with your landlord if these things are true:
- You and/or your household members must either have:
- A valid protection order (a court order that may help protect you and your children from domestic violence. Read Domestic Violence: How the Legal System Can Help Protect You to learn more, or use our Get a Domestic Violence Protection Order online interview to create the forms you need and find out how to file them)
- A record of reporting the domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to a “qualified third party.” See Sample Record of Report below.
* A “qualified third party” can be the police, sheriff or deputy, state court employees, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, licensed mental health professionals or counselors, clergy, or crime victim or witness program advocates.
* Reporting to a qualified third party may help you end your lease. It does not give you the same protections as a protection order.
- You must notify (tell) your landlord in writing that you (and/or your household member) are a domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, and/or stalking victim. You must attach a copy of the protection order or report to a qualified third party. See Sample Letter #1 or #2. If you are attaching a Record of Report form, the “qualified third party” you reported to must have a copy of the form that includes your abuser’s name (Page 1 of the Record of Report Form). The copy you give the landlord (Page 2 of the Record of Report Form) does not have to name the abuser.
- You must notify your landlord that you will be breaking the lease within 90 days of the incident that led to the protection order or report. You can do this in the same letter you use in step 2. See Sample Letter #1 or #2. This is not 90 days from the day you reported the incident or got the protection order. It is 90 days from the date the incident happened.
If these three things above are true for you, you can end your lease and move out without having to pay for the rest of the time on your lease. You must still pay the rent for the month you leave (even if you leave in the middle of the month), but you will be entitled to a refund of your deposit. Read Can I get My Security Deposit Back? to learn more.
What if my landlord has assaulted, stalked, or harassed me? +
You can end your lease early and move out without having to pay for the rest of the lease if:
- You or your household member get a protection order or make out a report to a qualified third party against the landlord (see above)
- You give your landlord a copy of your protection order or Record of Report within 7 days of moving out. You can mail the copy or have a friend or relative deliver it. The copy you give the landlord (Page 2 of the Record of Report Form) must not include the abuser’s name. If the landlord asks for the abuser’s name, and the abuser was the landlord’s employee, the third party you made the report to must give the name.
If you do these two things, you may end your lease and move out without having to pay for the rest of the time on your lease. You do not have to pay rent after (1) the day you move out, or (2) the date the report by the landlord got the third-party report and notice, whichever is later. You are also entitled to a pro-rated refund of any prepaid rent for the month. You may also be entitled to a refund of your deposit. Read Can I get My Security Deposit Back? to learn more.
I am a survivor of abuse. My landlord has threatened to evict me because of the abuse. What can I do? +
Your landlord cannot legally end your lease, refuse to renew your lease, evict you, or refuse to rent to you just because you are a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, and/or stalking. The landlord can still end your tenancy or evict you for other, legal reasons such as not paying rent.
If you believe your landlord is discriminating against you because of the domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, and/or stalking you have survived, you may be entitled to damages from the landlord. Talk with a lawyer. See contact information below.
Your landlord also cannot evict you based on your abuser’s acts towards you, claiming that you or your abuser are causing a risk to immediate and significant threat to safety, health, or property of other tenants. If you are in this situation, get legal help. See below.
I have a court order barring someone on my lease from living here anymore. Can I change the locks? +
Yes. If you give the landlord a copy of the court order, the landlord must change the locks at your expense. The landlord cannot give copies of the new keys to the tenant you put out.
My landlord has sexually assaulted, stalked or harassed me. Can I change the locks? +
Yes. You can change or add the locks, at your own expense, if within 7 days of doing so, you give the landlord these:
- A notice that you have changed or added locks (see Sample Letters #3 & #4, attached)
- and either
- A copy of a protection order you have gotten against the landlord
- A report you have had made against the landlord (see above on protection orders, reports, and how to give to the landlord)
If you change or add locks in this situation, your lease will end in 90 days (3 months) of giving notice that you have changed or added locks, unless you notify the landlord in writing within 60 days that you do not want to end your lease. You must still pay the rent for the month you leave (even if you leave in the middle of the month). You may be entitled to a refund of your deposit. Read Can I Get My Security Deposit Back? to learn more.
If you change or add locks, the landlord can enter your place only:
- In an emergency, but when you are not home or, if you are home at the time, with law enforcement or a fire official.
- By giving you written, reasonable notice, to make needed repairs or improvements.
I have changed the locks and given notice. What if the landlord’s employee who was abusing me is fired or moves? +
You may want to stay after all. In that case, no more than 60 days after you sent your notice about the locks, you must give the landlord written notice that you plan to stay. You must give the landlord a copy of your new keys with that notice.
- If you have a protection order against the landlord or landlord’s employee, do not send a copy of your new keys.
- If you are a domestic violence survivor and you live in low-income housing, Fair Housing will investigate your discrimination claim. Visit www.hum.wa.gov for the fair housing agency nearest you.
Get Legal Help
Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.