Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking* are entitled to various housing protections under the law.
Federal and state laws protect survivors and their families from wrongful eviction or being denied housing because of the violence committed against them**. Survivors also have the ability to get out of a lease early, and the right to change their locks to increase their safety.
Some protections exist nationwide, while others, like the ability to get out of a lease early, are specific to Washington State.
Protections in Washington State went into effect in March 2004. Federal protections under the Violence Against Women Act went into effect in January 2006 and were expanded in 2013.
There are certain steps survivors must take in order to break their lease or notify their landlord or housing authority of their status as a survivor. The next page outlines your rights and how this process works.
Terminating a lease
Survivors can terminate their lease early if they meet these three conditions:
- They have a valid order for protection OR a record of reporting the incident of domestic violence to a “qualified third party.”***
- They notify their landlord in writing that they are a victim and attach a copy of the order for protection or the record of the report with the letter.
- They inform their landlord that they will be moving out within 90 days of the incident that caused them to seek a protection order or make a report. They can do this in the same letter that they used in step 2.
A landlord CANNOT legally terminate a lease, refuse to renew a lease, evict, or refuse to rent to a survivor just because they are a victim or because the violence was committed against the victim in the home.
A landlord CAN evict a victim based on non-payment of rent or violation of other terms of the lease and CAN collect payment for rent owed prior to the incident or damage expenses.
- A survivor must have a valid court order that excludes someone who is also on the lease from the home.
- The landlord must change the locks if the tenant (survivor) asks and provides a copy of the court order.
- The locks are changed at the tenant’s expense
- The landlord cannot give copies of the keys to the tenant (abuser) excluded from the home by the order.
Getting legal help
If you believe that you are being discriminated against by a landlord because you are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking, you may be entitled to financial compensation from the landlord. For more information on legal options that may be available to you, go to www.washingtonlawhelp.org or contact:
- Northwest Justice Project’s CLEAR hotline at: 1-888-201-1014 (for low-income callers) or
- Northwest Women’s Law Center’s Information & Referral Line at: 1-206-621-7691
- Tenant Hotline 206-694-6767
*Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used by someone to control an intimate partner. The abuse can be physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or psychological. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact, either physical or verbal. Stalking can be any intentional incident of threatening, harassing, following, surveillance and/or coercive behavior that occurs more than once and causes you to fear for your safety, the safety of someone you know, or your property.
**Before complying with VAWA, a Public Housing Authority or Section 8 landlord may ask an individual for documentation that he or she is or has been a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. Documentation can include: a victim’s statement, a police or court record, a statement signed by certain professionals (including DV advocates), or a HUD-approved certification form.
***“Qualified third party” means any of the following people: law enforcement officers, state court employees, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, licensed mental health professionals or counselors, members of clergy, or crime victim/witness program advocates (DV advocates).