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Know the Laws: California

UPDATED January 2, 2017

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This section discusses a law that allows a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult, or human trafficking to break his/her rental lease without penalty. 

Basic info

back to topWhat is a housing law?

There are many different housing laws that involve rights of tenants and landlords.  The housing law described in this section provides tenant protections for victims of certain crimes and their household members.

There is a housing law in California that allows you (the tenant) to terminate your lease before it expires if you or a member of your family/household is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking.  However, the family member must live in the same household as you (the tenant).*

If you are not sure if you qualify as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult, or human trafficking, you can click on each highlighted term to read the definitions.  For the purposes of this housing law, "sexual assault" is defined as any of the following crimes: rape, unlawful sexual intercourse with person under 18, rape of a spouse, sodomy, oral copulation, or forcible acts of sexual penetration.*

Note: If you are a victim of one of these crimes mentioned above, and you are not asking to terminate your lease (meaning you want to stay in your apartment), there still may be reasons why a landlord can terminate your tenancy even if you are a victim.  To read what the law says about when a landlord can terminate a victim's tenancy, go to our CA Statutes page. 

If you are not a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult, or human trafficking but have questions about your housing rights, here are some links that may be useful: for information on an anti-discrimination law called the Fair Housing Act, click here; for basic tenants' rights with contact info for legal assistance, click here

* Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(a)

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back to topWho is protected under this housing law?

You can get protection if you meet both of the following:

  1. You (the tenant) were a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult, or human trafficking or a member of your family was a victim of one of these acts and s/he lives with you;* and
  2. You must have one of the following documents that was issued within the last 180 days:**
    • a temporary restraining order, emergency protective order or protective order from the court that protects you or your household member from further domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking; or
    • a copy of a written report from a peace officer stating that you or your family member filed a report due to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking; or
    • documentation on official letterhead from a qualified third party (such as a counselor, case worker, psychologist, doctor, etc.) based on information s/he received while acting in his/her professional capacity, which says that the tenant or household member is seeking assistance for physical or mental injuries or abuse resulting from an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, elder abuse, or dependent adult abuse.***  Note: To see the complete list of who could be a "qualified third party" and to see what the documentation that s/he writes must include, look at section (b)(3)(B) of the law where it says "Qualified Third Party Statement," here.
* Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(a),(g)
** Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(c)
*** Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(b)

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back to topIf I get my lease terminated, how will this affect my roommates?

If you have a roommate(s) who is listed as a tenant on the lease, your roommate(s) will not be affected if your lease obligations are terminated under this law.  Your roommate is still bound by the lease even if you are allowed to get out of your lease.*

* Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(e)

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back to topIf I reveal that I am a victim to my landlord, can s/he tell other people?

A landlord is not allowed to share any information that you provide unless:

  • you consent in writing;
  • the law or a court order requires the landlord to so do; or
  • the person that the landlord is talking to is the "qualified third party" who provided the written documentation for you that states that you are a victim; the landlord is allowed to call that person to verify what is written in the documentation.*
* Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(h)(1)

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Breaking a lease/moving out

back to topWhat documents or proof do I need to give to my landlord to get out of my lease if I am a victim?

You have to complete the following 2 steps to terminate your lease:

Step #1: You must make sure that you have one of the following:

  • a temporary restraining order, emergency protective order, or protective order from a court that protects you or your household member from further domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult, or human trafficking; 
  • a copy of a written report from a peace officer stating that you or your family member filed a report due to an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking; or
  • documentation on letterhead from a qualified third party (such as a caseworker for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or human trafficking or a nurse, physician, etc.) that verifies that you or your household member is seeking help for physical or mental injuries or abuse resulting from an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, elder abuse, or dependent adult abuse.*   There is a very specific format that this letter from a qualified third party is supposed to be in -- see section (b)(3)(B) of the law where it says "Tenant Statement and Qualified Third Party Statement."

Step #2: You must give your landlord written notice that you are terminating your lease based on domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of a dependent adult, or human trafficking along with a copy of one of the documents described in Step #1 (i.e., the restraining order, emergency protective order, protective order or documentation).  This must be given to the landlord within 180 days of when you received the temporary restraining order, emergency protective order, or protective order or within 180 days of when you reported the domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abuse of an elder or dependent adult or human trafficking.** 

Note: If you have a month-to-month lease, the notice may be given within the regular timeframe for terminating a monthly tenancy, which is at least 30 days' written notice.***  In this case, you may decide not to reveal your status as a victim to your landlord and simply terminate your tenancy in the time allotted by law.  For legal advice on whether or not to use this law to terminate a monthly tenancy, you may want to seek advice from a lawyer.  Go to our CA Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals.

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.

* Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(b)
** Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(c)
*** Cal.Civ.Code §§ 1946.7(c); 1946

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back to topOnce I notify my landlord that I want to end my lease, do I still have to pay my rent?

Yes – but only for the next 14-day period after giving notice.  Once you send the written notice to your landlord, you still have to pay your rent for the next 14 calendar days unless the landlord rents the premises to someone else during that 14-day period (and then the rent you owe will be prorated.)*  For example, let’s say you give notice and you leave on September 30th and you pay rent through October 14th.  Then the landlord gets a new tenant who moves in October 7th.  You can ask to be reimbursed half (½) of your rent that you paid for October.

See I am afraid to stay in my apartment. How can I get out of my lease if I am a victim? for the proper way to end your lease.

* Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(d)

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back to topIf I end my lease under this law, will I lose my security deposit?

Not necessarily.  The same laws that apply to all tenants for security deposits apply to you as well.*  In general, a security deposit can be kept by a landlord, in whole or in part, to reimburse the landlord for damage you cause to the apartment (aside from ordinary "wear and tear"), cleaning, key replacement, or back rent owed.**  The landlord cannot decide to keep your security deposit to penalize you for breaking your lease under this law.

* Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.7(d)
** See CA Courts website

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back to topIf I want to end my lease, will my roommate or family members be kicked out of the residence?

Not necessarily.  If your roommate or family members are listed as “tenants” on the lease, their tenancy still continues, even if you end yours.*

* Cal.Civ.Code §1946.7(e)

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

If you have read through the information above and still have questions, you may want to talk to a lawyer - go to our CA Finding a Lawyer page for free and paid legal referrals.  To connect with a domestic violence organization, see our CA State and Local Programs page.

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