Breaking your lease: What a survivor of domestic violence should know

The correlation between domestic violence and homelessness has continued to be studied due to the undeniable data that correlates the two. Because of the nature of domestic violence, victims are often subject to leave home due to safety concerns, leading them to seek shelter or a temporary living space. Often, this means victims have to choose between being safe or breaking their lease.

Currently, the Texas Property Code gives victims of family violence the right to vacate/move-out without liability under a victims lease if he/she received a 1) temporary injunction from a court, 2) a temporary ex parte protective order, or 3) a final protective order. If a victim has any of these documents, he/she can give a copy to their landlord and break the lease without financial penalty. Up until now, this was the only statue allowing victims the “right to vacate and avoid liability.” In addition, landlords who do not allow the tenant to break the lease or who attempt to place barriers, conditions or restrictions on the victim are breaking the law and are subject to a civil penalty of one month’s rent plus $500, damages and payment of the victim’s attorney fees.

Although this new law has proven to benefit victims who are needing to flee and break their leases, many victims are not able to obtain any of the three requirements allowing them to exert such right. Due to the many reasons why victims stay, engaging with law enforcement to obtain a protection order or any justice institute continues to be a barrier for victims of domestic violence.

During the last legislative session however, a new law that was passed in Texas (SB234) has further expanded the way a victim can prove that she has been a victim of domestic violence, giving additional options to domestic violence victims. After September 1, 2019, a victim of family violence can end a lease without financial liability if she has the documents previously allowed OR “a copy of documentation of the family violence against the tenant or an occupant from: (A) a licensed health care services provider who examined the victim; (B) a licensed mental health services provider who examined or evaluated the victim; or (C) an advocate as defined by Section 93.001, Family Code, who assisted the victim.” This new legislation will essentially expand the law to allow advocates and certain professionals to further advocate for clients. Although the bill is not retroactive for those moved out prior to September 1 2019, it will service future victims in creating opportunities to reach safety.

Written by Jasabet Munoz, client advocate at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support

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