Q&A: Can domestic violence victim break lease to avoid abuser?


Question: I rent an apartment and started dating a neighbor in the same complex. He lives with his elderly mother, and I don’t want to get her in trouble or evicted because she is an extraordinarily kind and nice woman.

The problem is that I tried to end this relationship, upon which my neighbor became angry and aggressive. Alcohol played no small part. I called the police after he hit me one day at the door of my apartment, after I told him to leave as he was not welcome or invited. He was later arrested.

Soon thereafter he was released from jail, and now I fear for my safety. I got a restraining order but I am still not comfortable in this apartment complex, so I asked my manager if I could break my lease. I still have eight months left on the lease and can’t afford to pay double rent if I move. My manager said “a lease is a lease” and it cannot be broken. Isn’t there some protection for someone in my difficult situation?


Answer: Sadly, these types of cases are not unique, and we get a few calls every month from frightened victims of assaults and other domestic violence crimes.

California has special rules that deal with victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in a landlord-tenant context. Special lease termination rights have been created and explained in California Civil Code section 1946.7.

It gives a tenant who has been a victim of domestic violence the right to pursue a special lease termination by providing the landlord with a written 30-day termination notice and a copy of a police report stating that the victim has filed a domestic violence report.

Alternatively, the tenant may submit a document from a qualified third party stating that the victim seeks assistance for physical or mental injuries resulting from an act of domestic violence, or an official restraining order signed by a judge or other equivalent protective order.

The victim needs to pay the rent for the 30 days prior to vacating. This procedure must be followed within 60 days of the domestic violence event, and you should act quickly if this 60-day deadline is approaching.

If you follow this procedure, you can inform your manager that “a lease is not a lease” in these circumstances and that you will not be responsible for rent after the 30 days expires. Consider contacting a local fair housing or mediation program, or Project Sentinel at (888) 324-7468, or visit our website at

Van Deursen is director of Dispute Resolution Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to