By Mark Zinman | Zona Law
In the past few months, our office has seen a significant spike in the number of residents seeking to terminate their lease under the domestic violence statute. We have no idea why this is happening, but it’s important for an owner to know their obligations and rights when presented with such a request. Improperly responding to a request from a resident who is a victim of domestic violence can lead to liability not only under the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act but it also likely constitutes a violation of fair housing laws.
Under the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, A.R.S. § 33-1318, a victim of domestic violence can terminate their lease early and without penalty. This sounds simple, but once you get into the details, it gets more complicated.
Please note: the law also allows victims of sexual assault in the unit to get out of their lease, but that is less common. This article will focus only on the domestic violence aspect.
Here are the most important things to know based on questions we have received over the years:
- To prove the resident is a victim of DV, they need only provide either of the following: (1) a police report “that states that the tenant notified the law enforcement agency that the tenant was a victim of domestic violence” OR (2) a copy of an Order of Protection (not injunction against harassment), and if you want, you can request proof it’s out for service.
- The incident has to have occurred within the last 30 days unless the landlord waives this requirement.
- The tenant can get out of their lease without penalty; they are just liable for up to the next 30 days in rent.
- Alternatively, instead of terminating the lease, the victim can choose to stay in the unit and have the landlord change the locks.
- If the aggressor is also on the lease, you should likely evict them, and you don’t have to give them access to get their stuff unless they have a police escort.
- If the victim terminates the lease, it’s as if they fulfilled their lease, and you can’t charge them for lease break fees or related charges. They are liable for rent and damages, and then you have to return the balance, if any, of the deposit.
Under the law, “If there are multiple tenants who are parties to a rental agreement that has been terminated under this section, the tenancy for those tenants also terminates.” This means they have to leave, and you have to account for the deposit. If they want to stay, you still need to close out the old lease, account for the deposit with the victim and get the others to sign a new lease with a new deposit.
It’s important to note that the victim and aggressor do not have to have lived together for the statute to apply. Even if your victim lives alone, they can be released from the lease if they otherwise qualify. “Domestic violence” is based upon the parties’ relationship – if they previously have had a romantic or sexual relationship or if they have a child in common. Therefore, a tenant can be a victim of DV and be released, even if they live alone. The whole purpose is to allow them to move to protect themselves.
The foregoing is a lot of information; this just shows the complexity of the statute. Therefore, it’s important that you carefully review and follow the statute when these issues arise. Given that you are dealing with victims of domestic violence, it’s important that you don’t violate their rights and victimize them a second time.