Advancing justice through legal services for marginalized or under-served people

Early Lease Termination Under G.L. c. 186, § 24: An Essential Escape Route for Tenants Who Are Facing Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking

by Julia Devanthéry

Legal Analysis

Survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking often have to leave their homes and relocate to a safer place with little notice or planning in order to avoid harm by a perpetrator who knows where they live.  My client Olivia[i] (whose name and identifying information I have changed to protect her privacy) was raped by a college classmate. Olivia’s rapist was also her upstairs neighbor. After the incident she saw him coming and going from the building, in the elevator, and around other common areas. She was terrified of what he might do to her and ashamed every time she saw him. Olivia knew she had to get far away from the person who assaulted her as soon as possible. When she asked her property manager about moving out of her apartment, he very politely directed her to the paragraph of her lease that provided for a three-month rent penalty for early lease termination. Olivia could not pay three months’ rent in addition to moving costs for a new apartment.  Frustrated, scared, and confused, she hid from her rapist by locking herself into her apartment, missing school and work.  After several weeks, a local rape crisis center referred her to me. Fortunately, G.L. c. 186, § 24, “Termination of rental agreement or tenancy by victim of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault or stalking” (“Section 24”), was signed into law in 2013, after decades of law-reform efforts by survivors and housing advocates. Its purpose is to help tenants like Olivia leave their homes for safety reasons without incurring financial penalties. With our help, Olivia asserted those rights and moved out of her apartment in less than 24 hours.

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