Lease Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence – Notice and Evidence Are Key
The New Jersey State Police 32nd annual domestic violence offense report of 2014 states that 62,055 domestic violence offenses were reported by the police in 2014. That same report shows that children were involved or were present during 29% of all domestic violence offenses.
Anyone in an abusive relationship can feel trapped not only emotionally, but physically. What can a domestic violence victim who is also a tenant do to get out of the lease and move to a safer location? The New Jersey Safe Housing Act allows domestic violence victims and their children to terminate their lease prior to the end of the term and find safe alternate housing. To benefit from the protections of the Act, the tenant must do the following:
- Give the landlord 30 days’ notice of intent to terminate the lease early.
- The notice must state that continued occupancy of the leased premises would result in the immediate threat of serious physical harm from another person. Note that if the harm is to a child, the tenant need not prove that the child is related to either the victim or abuser.
- The notice must state that the threat of harm comes from a specific person.
- Tenant must continue to pay rent during the notice period.
- Tenant must provide evidence of a threat such as a final restraining order, a police report, medical reports, a certification from a Domestic Violence Specialist, or a certification from a licensed social worker. This evidence must be specific and must state what additional evidence the official has reviewed.
Special care must be taken by the landlord to keep the information received confidential. It cannot be used to screen tenants or revealed to third parties. The information may only be used in later judicial proceedings if necessary.
In many instances, there are co-tenants on the lease. The landlord may enter into a new lease with the co-tenants, but cannot remove them unless there is basis to do so under the Anti-Eviction Act. Once the victim of domestic violence vacates the premises, the landlord must account for, or return, the security deposit within 15 days, instead of the usual 30 days.
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