Can You Break a Lease Due to Domestic Violence in Texas?
In Texas, a person protected by certain types of Protective Orders based on accusations of Domestic Violence, is legally entitled to terminate a lease and vacate a property before the end of the contract.
While this policy is important for actual victims of domestic assault, it is also another unfortunate example of a well-meaning domestic violence policy that is occasionally exploited. The opportunity to break a lease agreement without any legal consequence is a powerful incentive for unscrupulous individuals. I have seen situations where alleged victims intentionally provoke violence or even invent false allegations of family or dating violence, just to break a lease. This type of deceit is not only unfair to the landlord and the person who was falsely accused, it is also exploits actual victims of domestic assault. The types of court orders that are required to break a lease are based on a sworn statement so telling deliberate falsehoods amounts to felony perjury.
Which Type of Court Order Is Required?
Only tenants or occupants protected by the following types of court order are allowed to break a residential lease:
- A Temporary Injunctions issued as part of a divorce under Section 6.502, Texas Family Code.
- Temporary Ex-Parte Orders issued because of a clear and present danger of Family Violence or Dating Violence under Chapter 83, Texas Family Code.
- A two-year protective order issued after a hearing where the judge finds that Family Violence or Dating Violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future. This type of order is issued pursuant to Chapter 85, Texas Family Code.
Court Orders That Are Not Sufficient
Under current Texas law, the following common types of court orders are not enough to allow breaking a lease:
- An Emergency Protective Order (EPO) issued after a Family Violence arrest under Article 17.292 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
- A Temporary Restraining Order issued as part of a divorce under Section 6.501, Texas Family Code.
- A lifetime protective order based on sexual assault, sexual abuse, stalking, or human trafficking under Chapter 7 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
How Soon Can You Break a Lease?
A tenant can break the lease once the following things are done:
- Apply for and receive one of the required types of court orders described above.
- Give the landlord a copy of the court order that has been signed by the judge.
- Give the landlord 30-days written notice that you are breaking the lease.
- Actually vacate the premises.
Thirty-days notice is NOT required when both of the following are true:
- The person alleged to have committed Family Violence or Dating Violence is also tenant or occupant under the same lease.
- The court order is a Temporary Injunctions issued as part of a divorce or a two-year protective order issued under Chapter 85 of the Texas Family Code.
Can A Landlord Refuse to Let Me Out Of The Lease?
No. If you followed all of the requirements, the landlord must let you out of the lease. If a lease provision says that the tenant waives this right then that provision is invalid.
A landlord who refuses to terminate a lease after the tenant has met all the legal requirements can be sued in civil court by the tenant. The tenant is entitled to seek actual damages, a civil penalty equal to one month’s rent plus $500, and the landlord may also have to pay the tenant’s attorney’s fees.
Do I Have to Pay the Outstanding Rent?
Yes, unless the landlord failed to add the following magic words to the lease:
"Tenants may have special statutory rights to terminate the lease early in certain situations involving family violence or a military deployment or transfer."
These days, most professionally managed properties that use a standard lease will have the magic words buried somewhere in the fine print.
How can I get a copy of this law?
You can view the plain text of Texas Property Code 92.016 on the state’s server.
I also provide a copy in PDF format for my readers who need a file to download or print.