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Landlord-Tenant Issues for Survivors of Domestic Violence

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

Please Note:

  • Read this only if you live in Washington State.
  • 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.

Part 1: The Basics

Yes, if you rent the place where you live and you are a survivor of domestic violence. Washington 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. The law does not apply to you if you rent only one, but you should talk to a lawyer to find out if you might have other options.  

We use "domestic violence" here to refer to domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking. The legal protections we describe here cover survivors of all these types of harm. If you are not sure what the legal definitions of any of these types of harm are, read Protection Orders: Can the Legal System Help Protect Me to learn more.

You will learn about some ways state law tries to protect survivors of domestic violence who are also tenants and who might be at risk in their homes. 

  • If you are a survivor of domestic violence, and you need to move, we explain how you might be able to get out of a lease early.
  • If your landlord or someone who works for them has abused, assaulted, or harassed you, we explain your options.

You will also learn what to do if your landlord is trying to evict you due to an act of domestic violence against you on the rented property, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is a protection order?

This court order may help protect you and your children from harm. Read Protection Orders: Can the Legal System Help Protect Me to learn more, or use our Get a Protection Order online interview to create the forms you need and find out how to file them.

This is someone to whom you reported the abuse or harm you experienced. It 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 can help you end your lease. It does not give you the same protections as a protection order. If you need a protection order, you can use our Get a Protection Order printable packet or our interactive interview at Washington Forms Online.

Part 2: If the Abuser is Someone You Live With

You and/or your household who are survivors of domestic violence can end a lease with your landlord after you do these things:

  • Get a valid protection order or make a record of reporting what happened to a "qualified third party." See Sample Record of Report below. You just give the third party page 1 of the report.
  • Tell your landlord in writing that you (and/or your household member) have experienced domestic violence. You should attach to this letter a copy of your protection order or page 2 of your report to qualified third party. See Sample Letter #1 or #2.
  • Tell your landlord in writing that you will be breaking the lease within 90 days of the incident that led to the protection order or report. You can tell the landlord what harm you experienced and that you will be breaking the lease all in one letter. See Sample Letter #1 or #2. 

Yes, 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.

Maybe not. You could ask your landlord to refund your deposit to you and then apply to the state's Landlord Mitigation Program for reimbursement of up to $5,000 in damages to the place. If you are facing this situation and the landlord decides to keep your security deposit, talk to a lawyer right away.

* You should also talk to a lawyer if the landlord is the person who has harmed you and the landlord tries to keep your security deposit after you move. See contact info below and read Can I get My Security Deposit Back? to learn more.

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. 

Part 3: If the Abuser is Your Landlord

You can end your lease early and move out without having to pay for the rest of the lease after you or a household member do these things: 

  • Get a protection order or make out a report to a qualified third party against the landlord. Use page 1 of the Sample Record of Report below.  
  • Give your landlord a copy of your protection order or page 2 of the Record of Report, below, within 7 days of moving out.  You can mail the copy or have a friend or relative deliver it. 
* Note that page 2 of the Record of Report does not list the name of the person who harmed you. But the third party you reported to must give the landlord that info if the landlord asks for it in writing.

After you have done these things and moved out, you do not have to pay rent after the day you move out or the date 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 be entitled to a refund of your deposit. Read Can I get My Security Deposit Back? to learn more. Talk to a lawyer if the landlord tries to keep your security deposit and the landlord or an employee was the cause of the abuse you experienced.

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 and #4 below.
  • And either a copy of a protection order you have gotten against the landlord or 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 because the landlord or an employee was the cause of the harm you experienced, your lease will end in 90 days (3 months) of giving notice that you 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.

Yes, but only in these situations:

  • 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. 

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.

Part 4: If Your Landlord Threatens to Evict You

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 harm you have experienced, you may be entitled to damages from the landlord. Talk with a lawyer. See contact info 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 Get Legal Help below.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.

Download Packet with Sample Forms and Letters

Last Review and Update: May 16, 2022
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