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Know the Laws: District of Columbia

UPDATED January 23, 2014

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There is a housing law in Washington, D.C. that offers housing-related protection to victims of domestic violence. 

Basic info

back to topWho is protected under this housing law?

There is a housing law in Washington, D.C. that offers housing-related protection to victims of domestic violence. The law includes protections from eviction and the right to break your lease in certain situations. It also gives you the right to get safety improvements in your apartment and building. This law does not include protection for an eviction case brought against you for not paying your rent.

You may be able to get protection if:

  • You are related to the abuser by blood, legal custody, marriage, or domestic partnership; or
  • You have a child in common with the abuser; or
  • You live with or have lived with the abuser; or
  • You have or had a romantic relationship* with the abuser AND you currently live in D.C. OR the domestic violence incident happened in D.C.; or
  • You are or were the spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend of someone who has been a victim of domestic violence, you can be protected under this housing law if the abuser does something to you that is causing you to be taken to court by your landlord for eviction (for example, if you are the boyfriend of a victim and her ex-husband attacks you, you could qualify for protection under this law)
  • You are or were stalked by the abuser.**
* Note: A "romantic relationship" does not necessarily have to be a sexual relationship.
** D.C. Code § 16-1001(5)

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back to topMy landlord is trying to evict me because of a domestic violence incident in my apartment. What are my rights?

You can be protected from eviction if:

  • you (or your minor child) are the victim of domestic violence AND
  • the judge determines that the domestic violence is the reason for the eviction case against you.*
If as a result of this domestic violence incident, you got a temporary or permanent order of protection that removes the abuser from the home, the judge should not evict you.**

If you filed for an order of protection based on this incident and asked that the abuser be removed from the home but the judge didn't grant you the order OR you filed a police report based on the incident (within the past 60 days), the judge has the option (discretion) to not evict you.***

Note: In this section, even though the domestic violence incident must be an act that is punishable as a crime, the abuser does not necessarily have to be arrested for it in order for you to be protected under this law. Also, you could be protected if you are being taken to court for things the abuser did to your apartment during a domestic violence incident. For example, if your abuser kicks in the door or punches a hole in the wall, and the landlord is trying to evict you due to this damage to your apartment, you could be protected from eviction. If the landlord is taking you to court because he got complaints from your neighbors about noise caused by the abuser screaming at you, this law may protect you.

* D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(c-1)(1)
** D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(c-1)(2)
*** D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(c-1)(3)

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back to topI tried to rent / buy property and I was turned down because I am a domestic violence victim. Is this legal?

No. It is illegal for anyone to discriminate against you due to the fact that you are a current or former domestic violence victim. The following are some examples of the actions that are illegal:

  • interrupting, terminating, or refusing to start or continue any real estate transaction;
  • requiring different terms, conditions or restrictions for a real estate transaction;
  • falsely representing that a house or apartment is not available;
  • refusing to lend money, guarantee a loan, provide title insurance, etc. or to place different conditions on you when doing these actions;
  • refusing or restricting services, facilities, repairs or improvements for a tenant.*
* D.C. Code § 2-1402.21(a)

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Breaking your lease / Moving out

back to topI am afraid to stay in my apartment. How can I get out of my lease if I am a domestic violence victim?

If you are the tenant and you are a victim (or the parent/guardian of a victim) of domestic violence, there are two steps to getting out of your lease:

Step #1: You must have either: a protective order from the court* OR documentation (paperwork) from one of the following people saying you reported the domestic violence to them: a law enforcement officer, a domestic violence counselor, a health professional, the D.C. Housing Authority Office, or a D.C. Public Safety Officer;**

Step #2: You must give your landlord written notice that you are terminating your lease based on the domestic violence, along with a copy of the protective order or documentation described in step #1 - this must be given to the landlord within 90 days of when you reported the domestic violence incident.***

You may also want to check out our Staying Safe page for more information and ideas on how to keep yourself and your family safe.

* D.C. Code § 42-3505.07(c)
** D.C. Code § 42-3505.07(b)
*** D.C. Code § 42-3505.07(d) & (e)

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back to topOnce I notify my landlord that I want to terminate my lease, when can I stop paying rent?

You still have to pay the rent until the lease termination becomes effective. How quickly it becomes effective depends, in part, on you. If you carefully follow the steps described in I am afraid to stay in my apartment. How can I get out of my lease if I am a domestic violence victim?, the lease would end as soon as (whichever happens first):

  • the landlord re-rents the apartment to a new tenant or to someone who has the right to your apartment under the lease (such as your adult child who lived with you) OR
  • fourteen days after you give the landlord:
    • written notice of the lease termination ordered by the judge AND
    • a copy of the permanent protective order or the signed documentation from one of the following people: a law enforcement officer,  a domestic violence counselor, a health professional, the D.C. Housing Authority Office, or a D.C. Public Safety Officer.*
So, the quicker you give the landlord the required documents, the quicker your lease will end.  If you do not provide all of the necessary paperwork, you have to wait until the landlord is able to re-rent the apartment, which could take a lot longer than fourteen days.

* D.C. Code § 42-3505.07(d) & (f)

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Building safety and security

back to topAs a victim of a domestic violence incident, can I get my landlord to change my locks?

Yes, but you may have to pay for it.

If the abuser DOES NOT live with you: Any victim of a domestic violence incident can make a request in writing that the landlord change the locks (without providing proof of the incident).

If the abuser DOES live with you: If the abuser is a tenant in the home with you, along with the written request to your landlord, you need to provide the landlord with a copy of the protective order, which must state that the abuser has to stay away from you, any other household member, or the apartment.

The landlord must change the locks to all entrance doors to your apartment within 5 business days of your request.*

The landlord will pay the initial cost of changing the locks but you have to pay back the landlord within 45 days of him/her providing you with proof of the cost. You might also have to pay whatever additional fee the building normally charges tenants to change locks.**

See our Staying Safe page for more information and ideas on how to keep yourself and your family safe.

* D.C. Code § 42-3505.08(a)
** D.C. Code § 42-3505.08(b)

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back to topI asked my landlord to improve security in my building to help keep me safe and s/he refused. What are my rights?

If you ask your landlord to do something that would restore or improve security to keep you safe from your abuser, the landlord cannot refuse to do it based on the fact that you are a victim of domestic violence.   However, you might have to pay for the security improvement.

The following are some examples of security improvements that you might want to ask your landlord for:

  • bars on your windows
  • a more secure lock on the front door/entrance to the building
  • better lighting in the building hallway
Also, the landlord cannot punish you for calling the police to your apartment.*

* D.C. Code § 2-1402.21(f)

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Additional info and resources

back to topI still have questions about this housing law and if it applies to me. Where can I go for help?

If you are not a victim of domestic violence, but have questions about your housing rights, you may be able to find more information on an anti-discrimination law, the Fair Housing Act here.

If you are not sure if you are a victim of domestic violence, see What is the legal definition of domestic violence in D.C.?  If you have read through the information above and still have questions, these resources, which provide legal assistance in landlord/tenant matters might be able to help:

Bread for the City
202-265-2400

D.C. Law Students in Court
202-638-4798

Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
202-628-1161

The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
202-328-5500

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank Larisa Kofman, former Policy Director at the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, for providing information and guidance on this material. 

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