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Home / Articles / Housing / Moving Out After Abuse: How to Break Your Lease—Legally

Moving Out After Abuse: How to Break Your Lease—Legally

Don’t let your lease keep you from finding safety—how to get out of a lease with an abuser

Moving Out After Abuse: How to Break Your Lease—Legally

This article was originally published in 2017. It was updated in 2024.

Are you eager to escape an abuser but worried about what it will cost to break your lease? It’s a valid concern. But cost should never outweigh your safety. 

That’s why many states have enacted legal protections for survivors of domestic abuse to terminate their leases early. These laws help prevent people from being forced to stay somewhere dangerous because they are financially liable for the rest of the lease term. These protections can apply both to survivors who are living with an abuser as well as survivors who are living separately from an abuser but don’t feel safe staying in a place that an abuser knows. 

“A lot of states have early lease termination laws for people who are experiencing domestic violence,” says Sandra Park, an ACLU attorney at the Women’s Rights Project who focuses on the rights of domestic violence survivors. 

Looking to break your lease? Start with these four steps.

1. Understand your state’s laws. 

Start by finding out what, if any, protections your state provides you as a survivor and if you qualify. Some states stipulate that in order to benefit from these laws you must be current on your rent, and you may have to pay the following month’s rent to be legally released from the lease.

If you have safe access to the internet, visit to find your state’s housing laws. Better yet, speak with an advocate at a nearby domestic violence shelter if you’re able. They should be knowledgeable about what laws apply for you and can also help you create a safety plan.

2. Gather proof. 

The criteria for qualifying for these legal protections varies from state to state. Most require some proof of the domestic abuse, such as a valid protective order, a police report or a legal filing. Other types of evidence you may be able to collect can be found here.

Learn more about documenting domestic violence.

3. Talk directly to your landlord.

If your state doesn’t have any lease-breaking laws in place or you find yourself ineligible for protection under one, Park recommends speaking with your landlord directly. 

“Often when landlords have a better understanding [of what’s going on], they will try to work with survivors,” she says. 

This advice also applies in the event you’re told you can no longer rent your home or apartment because of an abusive partner’s actions, such as property damage or an arrest at the residence. 

“Sometimes [landlords] just know that the cops were called, and somebody was arrested. They don’t know what happened,” Park says. “So it can be helpful to explain the situation.”

While it can be difficult to communicate calmly during a period of high stress, it’s important to try and approach your landlord in a courteous manner. They’re much more likely to work with you if you begin by appealing to their desire to help rather than immediately threatening legal action. If your landlord does let you out of your lease or assists by making other accommodations, be sure to get the new terms in writing. 

4. Contact legal services. 

If your landlord won’t budge, Park suggests reaching out to a local legal services office (you can find one near you here). Many offer free and discounted rates for people who qualify.

Federal Laws Offer Other Housing Protections

On the federal side, two sets of laws could apply to domestic violence survivors struggling with housing issues, depending on the situation. The first, the Violence Against Women Act, says that individuals cannot be denied housing or evicted from their homes based on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. This law applies only to those who living in public or subsidized housing. It also provides these survivors with access to an emergency transfer to another home operated by the same provider if they are in danger.

The second law, the Fair Housing Act, prohibits discrimination in housing based on gender or other grounds. If, for example, an entire household is going to be evicted because of domestic violence against a woman, that eviction could legally be interpreted as discrimination.

Nuisance Laws Can Work Against Survivors

Nuisance laws in certain jurisdictions can fine or penalize a landlord when disturbances occur on their property. Casey Gwinn, the President of Alliance for HOPE International says it is illegal to use a nuisance law against a victim of domestic violence. “Neither a government entity or a private landlord have the right to fine or evict someone for reporting domestic violence to the police.”  The ACLU recently sued in Missouri to stop law enforcement from fining the mother of a domestic violence victim for calling for help.

“Some people are seen facing eviction not because the landlord wants to evict them, but because local laws say if you call the police a certain number of times, or if there is criminal activity on a property, the landlord can be penalized,” Park says.

Park says domestic violence survivors are the ones most likely to be affected by these nuisance laws because they tend to call the police more often. 

Do not let nuisance laws keep you from calling the police. Your safety is more important than anything else. Plus, there are ways to fight eviction based on a nuisance law.

Park agrees with Casey Gwinn, that the ACLU has taken on a number of cases related to these laws and is often willing to assist survivors who find themselves in this situation.

 “Survivors should reach out for legal assistance,” she says. “They can contact the ACLU via We take inquiries from survivors across the country.”

Moving Assistance Available

Another reason to contact a local domestic violence advocate is to inquire about moving assistance. Some companies, such as Meathead Movers in Southern California, donate moving services to survivors in partnership with domestic violence shelters and agencies. Ask your advocate if they know of any such services in your area. 

If free moving services aren’t available, you may be able to apply for reimbursement for the expenses you incurred to move through your state’s victim assistance program. You will need to have a police report to apply, even if no arrest was made or conviction obtained. All 50 states, as well as D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico have such programs. You can search for your state’s program here

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