If you (the tenant) are a victim of family abuse, sexual abuse or another criminal sexual assault, you may terminate your obligations under the lease if certain conditions are met. Additionally, if someone with whom you live was excluded by a court order, you can change your locks and may possibly be able to take over the tenancy (if you are not already a legal tenant).
Who is protected by this housing law?
This law protects a tenant who is the victim of family abuse, sexual abuse or any other criminal sexual assault (such as rape, sodomy and sexual battery) by allowing the tenant to terminate his/her tenancy obligations under the lease in certain circumstances.1 See Can I terminate my lease early? for more information. (Note: You can read the definitions of all of the crimes that come under “criminal sexual assault” on the Virginia Legislative website.)
The law also protects a tenant or authorized occupant who has a final protective order due to family abuse or a court order as part of a divorce that gives him/her possession of the home and excludes one or more co-tenants or authorized occupants by allowing him/her to change the locks.2 See Can I change my locks? for more information.
1 Va. Code § 55-225.16(A)
2 Va. Code § 55-225.5(A)
How much rent will I owe if I terminate my lease?
You will only owe the rent that is due through the termination date that you choose in the notice of termination, which must be at least thirty days after the first date on which the next rental payment is due. So, for example, if your rent is due on the 1st of the month and you give notice that you plan to terminate your lease on September 9th, your termination date must be October 31st (thirty days after October 1st, when your next rent payment would be due). The rent for the remaining time period until your termination takes effect should be paid when it would normally become due. The landlord cannot charge you additional money for terminating your lease if you follow all of the steps indicated in the law.1
However, if there are any co-tenants on the lease with you, they are still responsible to pay the rent for the rest of the lease. Their tenancy and the amount of rent owed on the apartment will not be affected by your early lease termination. If the abuser is the only remaining tenant on the least, the landlord has the choice to allow him/her to stay or the landlord can terminate the lease and collect “actual damages” for such termination against the abuser.2
1 Va. Code § 55-225.16(B),(C),(D)
2 Va. Code § 55-225.16(E)
Can I terminate my lease early?
Possibly, yes. Here are the steps you will have to take in order to terminate your lease.
- You must have one of the following:
- You must give the landlord a written notice of termination to be effective on a date stated in the notice. The termination date indicated in the written notice must be at least 30 days after your next rent payment is due. You must also attach a copy of the protective order or of the order of conviction. Note: If you have an order of conviction, you can have the right to terminate your current lease when the conviction order is entered and one subsequent lease based upon the same conviction.1
1 Va. Code § 55-225.16(A),(B)
What happens to my co-tenant(s) if I get out of my lease?
Any co-tenants on the lease with the victim (you) will remain responsible for the rent for the balance of the term of the lease. If the abuser/offender is the only tenant remaining on the lease, the landlord has the right to terminate the rental agreement and sue the abuser/offender for actual damages that arise from terminating the lease.1
1 Va. Code § 55-225.16(E)
Can I change my locks?
If you are a tenant or authorized occupant who has a protective order due to family abuse (but not an ex parte order) or a court order as part of a divorce that gives you possession of the home and excludes one or more co-tenants or authorized occupants, you can:
- give the landlord with a copy of that court order; and
- request that the landlord:
- install a new lock or other security devices on the exterior doors of the apartment at the landlord’s cost; or
- allow you to do so.1
However, at the end of your tenancy, the tenant will be responsible to reimburse the landlord for the “reasonable cost” that s/he may have for the removal of any security devices installed and repairs to all damaged areas.2
Once the locks are changed, the landlord cannot provide copies of the keys to the person who was excluded from the home.3
1 Va. Code § 55-225.5(A),(D)
2 Va. Code § 55-225.5(A)
3 Va. Code § 55-225.5(C)
Can I become the tenant after the abuser-tenant was excluded from the home?
If you and the abuser were living together but you were not a tenant or authorized occupant on the lease, it may be possible for you to now get on the lease once the abuser is excluded by the court. To accomplish this, you will need to:
- give to the landlord a copy of the order that gives you possession of the home and excludes the abuser-tenant (which could be part of a final protective order due to family abuse or a court order as part of a divorce); and
- submit a rental application to become a tenant within 10 days of when the judge issued that order.1
If your rental application meets the landlord’s tenant selection criteria, the landlord can make you a tenant and offer you a written lease. However, if you do not meet the landlord’s tenant selection criteria, you must leave the home within 30 days of the date that the landlord gives you written notice that your rental application has been rejected.1 Note: If you choose not to submit a rental application, the law says that you must leave the home within 30 days of the date the judge issues the order that excludes the abuser-tenant. In either case, if you do not leave within the 30 days, the landlord can file in court to evict you and sue you for money damages.1
1 Va. Code § 55-225.5(B)