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Early Termination of Rental Agreements for Domestic Violence Victims

Rental AgreementLast year, Virginia expanded the relief available to victims of domestic violence obtaining a final protective order. The typical remedies a victim of family abuse may seek in Virginia are found in Virginia Code Section 16.1-279.1, and include prohibiting acts of future family abuse, prohibiting some or all contact between the victim and the offender, and granting possession of the residence occupied by the parties to the petitioning party. The option of an abuse victim to terminate a rental agreement early, however, is not contained in this Section. It is instead located in Virginia Code Chapter 55, which deals with property and conveyances.

Virginia Code Sections 55-225.16 and 55-248.21:2 both provide that any tenant who has been a victim of (a) family abuse, (b) sexual abuse, or (c) other criminal sexual assault may terminate their rental agreement under certain circumstances. Those circumstances are that (i) the victim has obtained a final protective order (or the accused has been convicted of one of these criminal acts) and (ii) the victim has given 30 days advance written notice of termination. A victim of a criminal act who exercises their right to terminate a lease may do so for a rental agreement in effect at the time of conviction, plus one subsequent rental agreement based upon the same conviction. Victims of family abuse unrelated to any criminal convictions, however, are not limited in the number of terminations they may seek during the period their protective orders are in place.

The right to terminate a rental agreement need not be included in the final protective order itself, but it is only available upon obtaining a final protective order. It is not available based simply upon obtaining an emergency or temporary protective order. Unlike final protective orders, emergency and temporary protective orders follow streamlined procedures that do not typically include the participation of the alleged offender. But granting the right to terminate a lease without notice and a hearing could lead parties hoping to get out of a lease without penalty filing frivolous requests for protective orders.

It is also worth noting that while protective orders may be obtained in situations that do not constitute family abuse (non-domestic violence), the ability to terminate a lease early in Virginia is not available to victims of non-domestic violence even upon receiving a final protective order. The reasoning behind this difference may be due to the closer relationships between the victim and offender in a case of domestic violence (with the act being committed by/against a family or household member) than in instances of non-domestic violence.

The family law attorneys at Livesay & Myers have extensive experience in prosecuting and defending domestic violence cases. From offices in Fairfax, Fredericksburg and Manassas, we serve clients across Northern Virginia. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.