New Law Allows Domestic Violence Victims to Terminate Their Leases

Under New Jersey’s “Safe Housing Act,” enacted in October of 2008, victims of alleged domestic violence will be able to terminate their leases upon thirty days written notice to the landlord. This new law will undoubtedly be of concern to many landlords, who are now exposed to additional vacancy and turnover loss. However, it is widely acknowledged that domestic violence is a serious crime affecting thousands of tenants throughout the State. The new law will allow persons who claim they were victims of domestic violence to leave their abusive relationship and surrender possession of their dwellings without fear that their landlords will hold them responsible for rents that may become due after the surrender of the premises. The notice of termination does not need to coincide with the beginning of a month. Rents will be prorated accordingly to accommodate mid-month terminations. The Safe Housing Act also provides that the tenant’s security deposit must be returned within 15 days of the surrender of the premises. This is a deviation from the 30-day period prescribed by the Rent Security Deposit Act.

Proving Eligibility Under the Act

In addition to providing the landlord with written notice of the intent to terminate, the tenant must also produce any one of the following documents:

  1. A restraining order from any state or jurisdiction; or
  2. Medical documentation of the domestic violence; or
  3. Certification of a domestic violence specialist or social worker; or
  4. A police report certifying that the domestic violence took place.

It should be noted that no conviction is necessary to prove the incident of domestic violence under the Act. Landlords are understandably concerned about fraudulent claims by tenants who may collude with each other to void an undesirable lease agreement. Notwithstanding this concern, we know of no documented case, in which a landlord challenged the validity of a claim of domestic violence. Finally, it should be noted that the Safe Housing Act contains a non-disclosure clause which prohibits landlords from revealing the basis under which the lease was terminated.

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