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Note: From House to Home: Creating a Right to Early Lease Termination for Domestic Violence Victims

By Anne C. Johnson. Full text here.

Domestic violence remains one of society’s most pervasive and complicated problems. Among the complexities lies a victim’s difficult decision to leave an abuser. In an overwhelming majority of states, domestic violence victims also face the financial burden of terminating their residential leases when deciding to flee abuse. Such monetary hardships prevent victims from leaving their residence, despite the threat of future domestic violence. Victims’ other options include bearing the full cost, dodging payment and ruining their credit, or negotiating with landlords for reduced termination fees, a generally futile endeavor. While five state statutes currently allow victims to terminate a rental agreement without financial penalty, more states must act.

This Note proposes strategies by which states can construct a right to early termination for domestic violence victims. After examining existing laws, victim needs, and landlord concerns, the recommendations include amending landlord-tenant codes, articulating landlord rights and obligations, and collaborating with advocates, legislators, and landlords in the drafting process. This Note also argues that a statutory right to early termination benefits victims and landlords alike. By removing a financial barrier, domestic violence victims have greater opportunity to start anew while landlords enjoy a reduction in violence on their rental property.