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landlord/tenant Q&A

LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Manager
Property Profi les, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. My daughter is a victim of domestic violence. Her boyfriend has threatened her and her child on many occasions. The boyfriend is in and out of the house all the time and since he is on the lease, he does give her money for the rent from time to time. My daughter wants to find a way to get out of the lease and move in with me. She is afraid that this will hurt her credit if she tries to get out of the lease. What are her options?

A. In Hawaii the law regarding Domestic Violence does allow for a victim to terminate the lease (HRS 521-79 to 521-82). If the tenant or member of the tenant’s family is a victim of domestic violence, then they can terminate their lease without being penalized or being responsible for future rent.

There are numerous conditions associated with being able to end the rental contract.

The lease must be for one year or less, the violence must have occurred no longer than 90 days prior to the landlord receiving notice and the notice must be in writing and include the date of desired move out as well as providing evidence to back up the tenant’s claim of domestic violence.

Acceptable forms of evidence would be a copy of an order of protection issued to the tenant or member of the family, a copy of a police report showing that they were a victim or a copy of a document showing that the perpetrator has been convicted of domestic violence against the tenant or member of the family.

The tenant is responsible to pay rent up until the day they move out of the property as well as any amounts that are still owed to the landlord. The landlord has the right to determine if the remaining tenant(s) can pay the current rental rate – and if he decides they can’t then he has the right to terminate their lease early. This notice of early termination must be delivered by the landlord at least 14 days prior to the date of termination. The landlord can’t charge any termination fee or any other kind of penalty.

As in this case, since the perpetrator lives in the rental property, the owner can either allow the tenant to remain in the property and hold that person responsible for all future rent payments or terminate the rental contract by giving 5 days’ notice from the day the landlord wants the tenant to vacate the property. If the tenant doesn’t vacate the property on a timely basis, then the landlord will have to file for an eviction to get the property back.

The landlord will need to return the security deposit once all tenants under the current lease vacate the property unless there is a court order mandating how much of the security deposit the tenant that is moving out early should receive. Of course, the landlord has the right to use the security deposit for any necessary cleaning or repairs – just as they would in any other lease termination.

The landlord does have recourse if the tenant has falsely claimed to be a victim of domestic violence – he would be entitled to 3 months rent or 3 times the actual damages – whichever is greater – plus reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees.

This is a bad situation which can become even more convoluted the longer it is allowed to go on. Helping your daughter remove herself from this situation may be the best choice for everyone involved.

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