Terminating a lease in domestic violence situations

If you are a victim of domestic violence who needs to leave your apartment after an act of domestic violence, you should be aware of a Washington state law that can help you.  Under RCW 59.18.575, first enacted in 2004, a tenant may terminate a rental agreement and quit the premises without further obligation under the rental agreement if the request to terminate is made within 90 days of a reported domestic violence act, event or circumstance that gave rise to a protective order or report to a qualified third party.  A qualified third party includes under the definition in RCW 59.18.570(5) as law enforcement officers, court employees, licensed mental health professions or other licensed counselors, employees of crime victim/witness programs and members of the clergy.

Victims covered under this statute includes victims of sexual assault, unlawful harassment, or stalking.  A tenant who terminates a rental agreement under this statute is entitled to the return of a full deposit.  Other tenants who are parties to the rental agreement except household members who are also victims are not released from their obligations under the rental agreement.

Another provision under this statute permits a tenant or household member who is a domestic violence victim to change or add locks to the tenant’s dwelling unit at the tenant’s expense under certain conditions.  The legislation further prohibits landlords from discriminating and refusing to enter into a lease agreement based on an individual’s status as a domestic violence victim.   RCW 59.18.580, 585.

Be sure to consult with a knowledgeable attorney to confirm whether you may qualify under these laws.