In the unfortunate case that a tenant is a victim of domestic violence, the tenant has several key rights to ensure their safety. To be sure, a landlord cannot legally refuse to rent to someone with a legitimate domestic violence status, or who has previously terminated a lease early or requested a change of locks due to their domestic violence status.
Proof of status
The landlord can request to review the tenant’s proof of domestic violence status. Proof of status as a victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking can be satisfied by any one of the following documents (from M.G.L.A. 186 § 24(e)):
- a copy of a valid protection order under chapter 209A or 258E obtained by the tenant, co-tenant or member of the household;
- a record from a federal, state or local court or law enforcement of an act of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking and the name of the perpetrator if known; or
- a written verification from any other qualified third party to whom the tenant, co-tenant or member of the tenant or co-tenant's household reported the domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking; provided, however, that the verification shall include the name of the organization, agency, clinic or professional service provider and include the date of the domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking, and the name of the perpetrator if known; and provided, further, that any adult victim who has the capacity to do so shall provide a statement, under the penalty of perjury, that the incident described in such verification is true and correct.
Early termination of lease
The tenant has the right to early termination of the lease agreement if they are the victim of domestic violence, as long as the incident of domestic violence occurred within the previous three months. In addition, if the tenant or a member of the tenant’s household is reasonably in fear of imminent serious physical harm from domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking the lease can be terminated early. The tenant must provide written notice of their intent to quit the premises due to the threat of domestic violence, and the tenant must then quit the premises within three months of providing such written notice.
The tenant can request a change of locks if they are under an imminent threat of domestic violence. Specifically, upon upon the request of a tenant, co-tenant or a household member, the landlord must change the locks of the individual dwelling unit in which the tenant, co-tenant or household member lives if that person reasonably believes that they are under an imminent threat of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking at the premises. The landlord has the right to request, in good faith, proof of the status as a victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking, including the name of the perpetrator, if known.