Are you a tenant who is living with a spouse, partner, family member, or friend who has brought domestic violence into your home? Alternatively, is there an abuser in your life who knows where you live, and is threatening your safety? If either of these scenarios rings true, it’s possible that Oregon law will offer you protection in breaking your lease or evicting an abusive tenant without penalties. We sat down with landlord-tenant law attorney, Troy Pickard, to discuss the rights of tenants who are victims of domestic violence, and the options available to them if they’re needing to relocate.
What are your options for removing an abusive roommate from your lease?
According to Pickard, the first thing a victim of domestic violence will want to do is contact an attorney or the police to discuss whether you qualify for an Oregon restraining order. If you’re granted this court order, it might include terms in which the abuser would have to vacate the property. Once this option has been considered and pursued, you can then look to your landlord for support.
“[In addition to pursuing a restraining order], you can let your landlord know about the domestic violence that occurred, because the landlord has the ability to terminate the tenancy of a domestic abuser with just 24 hours of notice,” says Pickard. “I bring [this option] up second after the restraining order issue because, number one, in the situation of advising your landlord so they can take their own action, you're going to be counting on a third party to do something to solve your problem. It’s possible the landlord may or may not take it as seriously as you do. And second, the process of evicting an abusive tenant is going to be a much longer process than the process of getting the immediate relief of a restraining order that might at least temporarily require that person to move out until the court has been able to make a more long term decision.”
What are your options if you want to break your lease?
If it would be safer for a victim of domestic violence to break their lease and move elsewhere, Oregon has a law (ORS 90.453) that allows this options for individuals who find themselves in this situation. However, it does require the tenant to give their landlord two weeks’ notice before doing so.
“The gist of Oregon law 90.453 is that you can give your landlord a termination notice that says, 'Hey, I've been a victim of domestic violence, and I'm giving you my notice that in 14 days, that's going to be the end of my tenancy here, and I'm not going to have any further obligations to you in terms of being an ongoing renter,’” says Pickard. “A landlord, unless they want to challenge the truth of your claim that you really are a domestic violence victim, won't really have any options here. By law, your tenancy will end.”
While this law is in place to protect victims of domestic violence, there are requests that a landlord can make to verify domestic violence claims.
“As part of the notice that you give, you're going to want to include something that's called a qualified third-party verification,” says Pickard. “That’s a long way of saying that your landlord needs to hear from someone else that's qualified to say, 'Yes, this person does appear to be a victim of domestic violence.’ That person could be your own lawyer, or it could be a police report that describes you being the victim of domestic violence. There are a number of different things that could qualify as this qualified third-party verification, but you'll want to make sure you include that—it’s a requirement of the law so that your landlord can have verification.”
What if the abuser doesn’t share the same residence as the victim of domestic violence?
It’s important to note that the protection provided from ORS 90.453 also extends to victims of domestic violence whose abuser does not live with them but knows their address and is proving to be a threat to their safety.
“Say you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and maybe they have their own place on the other side of town, but you get yourself into a domestic violence situation. You may want to say, 'Look, I need to get out of here, and I need to move somewhere where this person doesn't know where I live,'” says Pickard.
“You would still be able to go to your landlord and provide that demonstration that you've been a victim of domestic violence, and the landlord would have an obligation to let you out of that lease.”
Can a landlord hold you responsible for property damage caused by an abuser?
If your abuser came to your residence and inflicted damage to your home, a landlord cannot hold you personally responsible, but may ask for third-party proof of domestic violence in order to verify the claims.
“Oregon law has relatively recently been updated to say that a tenant cannot be held responsible for damage that was caused by the perpetrator of domestic violence as a result of an incident of domestic violence. The classic and very scary case that [is often seen] is when an abusive spouse comes over and kicks your front door in in an effort to get into your house. The landlord is not going to be able to hold you responsible for that,” says Pickard. “Although, if the landlord wants to, they would be able to ask you for that kind of demonstration from a third party of proof that you have been the victim of domestic violence. So there is a little bit of protection there for landlords against an unscrupulous tenant who might try to pin damage incorrectly on an incident of abuse when it actually wasn't abuse related.”
Are there any scenarios where a victim of domestic violence could lose the protections provided by ORS 90.453?
While Oregon enacted ORS 90.453 to protect victims of domestic violence by mitigating the penalties from breaking their lease, these protections can be lost if the victim maintains a relationship with their abuser after being warned that they are not allowed on the property.
“If the landlord has previously given the tenant a warning about the domestic violence by the other person, and the tenant allows that person to keep coming back to the home, the landlord may have legal grounds [to terminate the tenant’s lease],” says Pickard. “For example, say you're in a situation where abusive boyfriend comes over and punches a bunch of holes in the wall, you let the landlord know about it, and the landlord gives you a notice that says that you can’t let that person back into the house. Well, if you as a tenant let that person back over and then they punch more holes in the wall, you might have, at that point, given up those protections that the law extends to domestic violence victims.”
If you’re a victim of domestic violence and you’re looking for options to either ensure your safety at the residence you are renting, or to break your lease and move, Oregon law has made it a priority to offer certain protections to do so. If you’re in need of an attorney to discuss restraining order options, or would like to speak with Troy Pickard further regarding landlord-tenant law, please do not hesitate to contact our office at (503) 227-0200.