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The Family Violence Victim's Right to Break a Lease

Introduction

Section 92.016 of the Texas Property Code gives victims of family violence the right to “vacate and avoid liability.” This means a victim of family violence may break her residential lease without penalty and in some cases without notice.  Landlords who do not allow the tenant to break the lease or who attempt to place barriers, conditions, or restrictions on the victim are breaking the law and are subject to a civil penalty of one month’s rent plus $500, damages, and they must pay the victim’s attorneys’ fees.

What proof does the tenant have to give the landlord?

Section 92.016(b) lists the following documents that serve as proof of family violence: a temporary injunction, a temporary ex parte protective order, or a final protective order.  Any one of these documents can be given to a landlord to prove the tenant is able to break the lease without penalty.  As a practical matter, the tenant should also give the landlord written notice of her intent to vacate. No particular form or language is required. Notice can be handwritten, and as simple as a sentence or two explaining the situation. For example, “I am a victim of family violence and am breaking my lease without penalty as Texas law allows me to do. A copy of my protective order is attached. I expect to move on (date).”  If the person who committed the family violence lives with the victim, then the victim does not have to give written notice; the victim just needs to give a copy of the protective order to the landlord.

Can the landlord still charge the victim rent or keep the victim on the lease?

No. To do so violates the law, and a landlord who violates the law is liable to the tenant for damages, a civil penalty of one month’s rent plus $500, and attorneys’ fees. 

Can the landlord try to collect unpaid rent that accrued before the victim vacates the premises from the victim?

It depends. There is special language that must be in the lease before the landlord can collect old unpaid rent from the victim.  The lease must say, “Tenants may have special statutory rights to terminate the lease early in certain situations involving family violence or a military deployment or transfer.”  If the lease does not have this language in it, then the victim is not liable for unpaid rent that was due at the time the victim vacates the premises.

Can a landlord make a lease that does not allow a family violence victim to break the lease?

No. A victim cannot waive her right to vacate.