Lease Termination Law For Victims Of Domestic Violence
Family Law Fact Sheet #16
What Is The Lease Termination Law?
The lease termination law, which went into effect in October 2007, allows people who have temporary or final orders of protection but are still unsafe in their apartments to ask the court for permission to end their tenancy early (“break their lease”) so that they can end their lease without owing additional rent. The court can also “seal” (keep confidential) the information in your petition and all other court papers that are connected to your request to end your lease. This law was created to protect victims of domestic violence.
Remember, getting your lease terminated has the potential to take up to 5 months, so this may not provide you with a fast solution and you should work with a domestic violence organization or you attorney to plan for your safety during this time period.
What is the purpose of this law?
Under most circumstances, if you have to move from your apartment before your lease is up, you maybe liable for all rent that would be owed until the end of the lease and the landlord can sue you to get this money. This law allows you to get an order to terminate or sever your lease (separate from your co-tenants – anyone who is on the lease with you) without being responsible for the rest of the rent under the lease – but only if you are a victim of domestic violence and meet certain criteria. You can always move at any time if you are in danger, but if you do not have an order from the court, you may continue to owe rent on your apartment even if you do not live there.
When should I use this law?
If you live in an apartment with a lease, have an order of protection and, despite this order of protection, are still unsafe (physically or emotionally) because of domestic violence, you should ask your landlord if you can move. If your landlord says no or does not respond to your request, you can use this law.
How does the lease termination law work?
To use this law, you must file a petition in the court that gave you the order of protection. This can be Family Court, Criminal Court, Supreme Court (as a part of a divorce) or the Integrated Domestic Violence Court (IDV). You then will get a date to go before the judge. You must serve the petition on your landlord and any other tenants (people on the lease) that live in your apartment. You “serve” by having someone (not you) who is over the age of 18 hand your landlord and co-tenants a copy of the petition. You must serve your abuser if s/he is on the lease; you do not have to serve your abuser if s/he is not on the lease.
How do I get permission from the court to terminate my lease?
For the court to give you permission, you must show that despite the fact that you have an order of protection:
- you and/or your child are still in substantial risk of physical or emotional harm (from the person you have
the order of protection against)
- you asked your landlord to let you move, and your landlord refused to either end your lease or allow you to relocate
- relocating from this apartment will substantially reduce the risk of harm from your abuser
- you are acting in good faith (that is, you are not trying to get out of your lease or move from your apartment for a reason unrelated to the domestic violence)
In addition to the four things above, you must also show the court:
- all current rent due has been paid
- that the apartment will be vacant (that if you have any roommates, they have moved out or will move out – your roommate can also agree to be on the lease by themselves if the landlord agrees.) You are not responsible for making sure that your abuser moves out.
You must also give your landlord and any co-tenants (including your abuser if s/he is on the lease) at least 10 days notice of the lease termination court case and the first date you will go before the judge.
Do I have to let my abuser know that I’m trying to end my lease in court?
You have to give your abuser notice only if s/he is on the lease with you, but you do not have to tell him or her if s/he is not on the lease with you. If you are unsure, you should contact someone who can help you make a safety plan and figure out whether you have to give your abuser notice. You can call 1-800-621-HOPE for referrals to anti-violence service providers in New York City.
What if I have a roommate who is on the lease?
You can request an order that severs you from the lease (ends your portion of the liability for rent on the lease) from a co-tenant (person actually on the lease). The court may allow your roommate to continue living there on the lease, even if you are no longer living there yourself.
What if I have a roommate who is not on the lease?
If you have a roommate, your roommate will have to move out or sign a new lease with the landlord.
If I try to use this law do I have to pay my rent while I’m in court?
Yes. You must have paid all current and past rent payments before the court will allow you terminate your lease under this law.
Can my landlord force me to stay in the apartment if I signed a lease?
No. The purpose of this law is to allow you to get out of your lease if you are unsafe because of domestic violence. Landlords cannot create a lease that makes you give up these rights. If you sign a lease that says you have to give up these rights, that part of the lease will be invalid.
Can I use this law if I have a month-to-month tenancy (no lease)?
You don’t need to. If you do not have a lease, you can move by sending your landlord written notice that you intend to leave the apartment in 30 days.
Can I use this law if I have experienced domestic violence but do not have an order of protection?
Unfortunately, no. You must have an order of protection to use this law, and you must go back before the court that issued the order of protection to use this law.
What if I use this law, and my landlord says I owe rent to him but I disagree?
This law is new, and some parts of the law are still being worked out. However, it is likely that if you and your landlord disagree on how much rent you owe, your case will be referred to Housing Court so that a judge in the Housing Court can determine how much rent you owe. This should happen quickly.
What happens if the court gives me permission to end my lease?
If you meet the criteria below, the court will allow you to move and set a specific “termination date” (the last day of your tenancy when you will owe rent) that is at least 30 days away but no more than 150 days away. The court will require you to pay ongoing rent for the period you remain in the apartment (generally, this will be the rent owed until the date the order says is the end of your tenancy, including any rent you owe from the past, known as “rent arrears”). You can move out at any time, and should consider doing so if you are in danger, but you will owe rent until the date of termination on the court order.
Where do I go to use this law?
You must go back to the court that issued your order of protection. If you got your order of protection in:
a. Family Court, you should go to the clerk’s office in Family Court (in Brooklyn, the Family Court is at 330 Jay Street, and the clerk’s office is on the 6th floor).
b. Criminal Court, you must go to the Criminal Court (in Brooklyn, the Criminal Court is at 120 Schermerhorn).
c. Supreme Court, as a part of a divorce, you must go to the Supreme Court (in Brooklyn, the Supreme Court clerk’s office is in the basement of 360 Adams Street).
Both the Criminal and Family Court petitions and orders for lease termination or severance are on the New York State Court system’s web-site, www.nycourts.gov (click on courts, then forms, then domestic violence; GF 38 and GF-39 are the Family Court forms and the Criminal Court forms are at the end of the list). Click here to go straight to the page. For Supreme Court divorces, the forms should be posted on the website shortly and are available at the court, but you can always bring in a copy of the Family Court forms if you want to fill them out before going to court .
What can I do if I need help with this law?
- Housing Hotline on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:30 to noon at 718-237-5559 or
- Family/Domestic Violence Hotline on Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. at 718-237-5563 or
- Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to the Family Justice Center at 350 Jay Street, 15th Floor, Brooklyn, New York.
At the Court:
Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT Table):
Located outside the Support Petition Room on the 5th Floor, 330 Jay Street
Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 8:45 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Located in the waiting area adjacent to the Petition Room on the Sixth Floor, 330 Jay Street
Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 8:45 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
In the Courtroom:
If you got your order of protection in Family Court or Supreme Court you can ask for the judge in your case to appoint a lawyer for you if you are income-eligible. The decision to give you a lawyer is up to the judge.
This fact sheet was written by the Family/Domestic Violence Unit at South Brooklyn Legal Services.
South Brooklyn Legal Services, 105 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
This article was posted May 19, 2008