Right of a Tenant to Cancel a Lease After Suffering from Family Violence

Since 2006, Texas law has provided a limited right for someone who has a lease to cancel the lease if he or she has been the victim of domestic violence.  Under the statute, “family violence” is defined to mean:

  1. An act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.

The term also extends to abuse of a child and to dating violence.  Also, protection is extended to any “occupant” of the dwelling.  “Occupant” means a person who has the landlord’s consent to occupy a dwelling but has no obligation to pay the rent for the dwelling.  (e.g., they are not on the lease, but the landlord has approved of them moving in)

  1. The tenant can terminate the tenant’s rights and obligations under a lease and may vacate the dwelling and avoid liability for future rent, and any contractual sums for early termination of a lease, if the tenant complies with all of the following requirements:

The tenant provides the landlord with a copy of one or more of the following orders protecting the tenant or an occupant from family violence:

(1)  a temporary injunction issued under Subchapter F, Chapter 6, Family Code;

(2)  a temporary ex parte order issued under Chapter 83, Family Code; or

(3)  a protective order issued under Chapter 85, Family Code.

C.            When may the tenant vacate?  A tenant may exercise the rights to terminate the lease, vacate the dwelling before the end of the lease term, and avoid liability beginning on the date after all of the following events have occurred:

(1)  a judge signs one of the orders described above;

(2)  the tenant provides a copy of the relevant documentation described above to the landlord;

(3)  the tenant provides written notice of termination of the lease to the landlord on or before the 30th day before the date the lease terminates;

(4)  the 30th day after the date the tenant provided notice; and

(5)  the tenant actually vacates the dwelling.

The requirement that the tenant be responsible for paying the lease for 30 days from the date that he or she provided the landlord with notice of vacating the premises and the court order is an effort to allow the tenant a quick exit, but not put the landlord through hardship by receiving less than 30 days’ notice of vacancy.

If the family violence is committed by a co-tenant or occupant of the dwelling (someone who is on the lease or who is there with the landlord’s knowledge and permission), a tenant may exercise the right to terminate the lease under the procedures outlined above, but the tenant is not required to provide the notice described by Subsection (c)(3), above.  That means if the violence is committed by a co-tenant or occupant, the victim can move out without having to give 30 days’ advance notice.  The victim still must give a copy of the court’s order to the landlord and provide the landlord with their new address (in writing) so that the landlord can return their deposit to them.

If the tenant is past-due on rent, the arrearage is still due and owing, even though the tenant is allowed to move out.  And, if the tenant damaged the premises, any necessary repairs may come out of the deposit.