DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDERS AND YOUR LEASE
So, you have taken the very important step to ensure that you are protected against any further domestic abuse and have obtained a restraining order against your abuser. Now, what about your current lease?
As advocates for victims of domestic violence, we find our clients are sometimes left in their apartment and with the burden of a signed lease. With the abuser removed from the home, these victims sometimes find it difficult if not impossible to maintain the financial burden imposed upon them by their current lease agreement.
The New Jersey Safe Housing Act is a law that allows domestic violence victims and/or their children who are tenants to end their lease before it is over. The purpose of the law is to help victims who are tenants find safe, long-term housing (N.J.S.A. 46:8-9.4)
If you find yourself in this situation, here are the steps that you must follow in order to comply with the law:
- Tenants MUST give written notice to the landlord. Under the law, you must give your landlord written notice to end your lease early. The lease will then end 30 days after the landlord receives this notice. You are required to pay the rent until this 30th day. The notice must tell the landlord that:
a. Staying in your current apartment will cause you or your child/children to face an immediate threat of serious physical harm from the abuser.
b. That the threat comes from a specific person. For example, this requirement would be met if your abuser knows where you live and there has been a previous incident of domestic violence.
- The written notice must include other evidence of the threat. You must send proof of the threat along with your written notice to end the lease. This proof should show the reasons you are facing an immediate threat of serious physical harm. The following documents are examples of acceptable evidence of threat:
a. A certified copy of a final restraining order against your abuser. It is important to note that a temporary restraining order alone is NOT sufficient evidence.
b. A certified copy of a final restraining order from another state or country based on that state or country’s domestic violence laws.
c. A law enforcement agency record (such as a police report) documenting the domestic violence or certifying that you or your child/children is a victim of domestic violence.
d. The notes or report of a doctor or nurse or other health care provider from a hospital or emergency room or private medical office describing injuries from the domestic violence.
e. A written certification from a certified Domestic Violence Specialist or the director of a designated domestic violence agency stating that you or your child/children are domestic violence victims.
f. Other documentation or certification from a licensed social worker that you or your child/children are victims of domestic violence.
***If your current restraining order is temporary and not yet permanent, please be aware that the temporary restraining order sent with other acceptable documentation my help.
When will your lease end? Thirty days after the landlord receives your notice and other documents, your lease will end and you may stop paying rent. You must pay rent until the 30th day. If there are other tenants on your lease, their lease also ends. The other tenants should not be removed from the house unless the landlord has good cause under landlord/tenant laws.
What about my security deposit? If you end your lease and leave, the NJ Safe Housing Act states that your landlord must return your security deposit within 15 days after you are out.
As always, your first concern should always be the safety of you and your family. If you feel that you need help, please contact an attorney, the police or seek counseling if needed.