Tenant Domestic Violence Issue

26 Replies

Hello all, firstly wanted to thank you for this great resource.   I have been lurking here for a few years, and there is such a wealth of knowledge on this site!   

I am renting out a place in Columbus, Ohio. I have rented it two a newly married couple and this is the third month of their 1 year lease.  My communication has all been with her, and I only met him briefly when he signed the lease.  

All seemed well until this morning when I got a text from her that he has beaten her really badly and she needs to get away from him.   She wants to know if she can leave the lease without financial responsibility.    She insists he has plenty of income to pay for the place himself.   

I haven't responded yet, as Im not sure what the best answer is.   Of course I don't want to feel like I am keeping her there, in obviously such a horrible situaton.    

How would you experienced landlords handle this? 

Check your local laws.  Wisconsin last year added a clause about domestic violence between tenants.  Maybe your answer is already there for you.

Let her out.  That is the decent thing to do, and may in fact be legally required.  I'd love to see how the "never make exceptions to your lease" crowd would respond to this.

If you do decide to try to force her to honor the lease, contact your attorney, because while state laws vary, it is very, very likely that she gets to leave the lease whether you like it or not. 

my answer would be to evict both of them immediatley

i have not been a landlord long enough to give you the right answer

First and foremost, she should get the heck out of there, regardless of what her lease situation is.  I sure hope she doesn't hang around a dangerous situation just  because she is concerned about the lease.

If he can really swing the place himself, chances are he'll just continue to pay the rent anyway.  @Mark Brogan  , I don't see what grounds you would be evicting them on.  We don;t even know if she called the cops and there is an investigation of criminal behavior going on (sadly, these are VERY under reported crimes), but even then it's not obvious to me that you can just evict.

thanks for response Andrew S.    I agree with what you are saying.    However Right now Im looking for an appropriate response to her plee to be removed from her obligations to the lease.   Are you saying I should advise her that her responsibility to the lease shouldnt hold her there, however its not alterable?

I think there are several questions that need to be asked that will dictate how this is handled. First you can't solve their issue and you don't want to compound any problems either. I would talk to her to see if she is actually leaving, if not the next nine months will be extremely fragile. Speaking from my law enforcement side usually the person goes back and the violence continues. If she's actually leaving and he's staying or vice versa then make a new lease with that one person if they qualify by themselves for either the nine months or another year. Another option is allowing whomever to stay and as long as the rent is paid there isn't a problem for you. I would do some research talk to an attorney about this matter in the eyes of the court domestic violence isn't taking lightly and there might be some sort of legal release for the complaintant. But first talk with her ask her if she's talked to her husband about what she's planning and tell her you will contact him asking the same information just be sure that everyone is being truthful. And if no agreement can be made then your next step might be eviction. This happens people get married by a house then divorce and can't afford the house themselves foreclosure short sale ensues etc. And both parties take a hit financially. Also did she document this with the local police department? So until there is a new lease signed she's responsible, unless you decided to have the husband resign a new lease by himself asap. This is a very complex situation and wish you good  luck.

You have no grounds to evict, so get that out of your head.

If she leaves, and the rent later goes unpaid, good luck getting the judge/magistrate to give you a judgment against her.  Also prepare to "enjoy" the publicity you will get as the landlord who tried to sue a battered wife for leaving her husband (because that is how the press will phrase it.)

If she filed a police report and you have a crime clause or addendum in your lease (and if you don't you should) you could potentially evict him. If she didn't I would encourage her to, for both of your sakes. But I would still check with a lawyer regardless, since they can lay all your options out for you. Good luck!

Does your state have any domestic abuse statutes regarding leases? In Wisconsin we have that -- you cannot evict someone if you are aware they are the victim of domestic abuse and that is the cause for them needing to break their lease.

@Dawn Anastasi  Does that mean the suspect/abuser can be evicted because of DV but the victim can stay at the residence? Also does the abuse have to be documented by law enforcement before the eviction process happens on the suspect /abuser.

The Ohio Domestic abuse law has not been passed yet, so there are no limits or guidance there. Be careful about making tenant problems your problem.

Since they both signed the lease, they are both financially responsible. I see three options.

  • If she moves out, and he continues to pay, then no issue.
  • If he can qualify on his own, you can do a new lease just with him (9 or 12 months), and release both of them from the previous lease.
  • If she gets a Protection Order from the court, she stays, and he is essentially evicted, but he is still on the hook for the lease payments if she doesn't pay.

I would absolutely NOT start an eviction based on what you have right now.

Most of the dramatic heat of the moment texts I receive solve themselves after a little while. All the sudden you'll get a 'NVM'. (didn't  know what that was until it happened  last week)  I would let things cool a little. I am not discounting her situation.  If I were her, I would be getting out!  I had a couple divorce last year.  After she vacated, I went over and met with them, and released her.  I didn't do anything until she fully vacated. If she does that, I would!

Bottom line is that since they are both on the lease, either can move without your permission.  If her husband then fails to pay, at most you can go after her for damages.  And the reality is you won't get them, statute or not.

Just to clarify on the Wisconsin law. This does not apply if the parties involved are both on the lease and living at the property. So husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend that have repeated domestic issues with police involvement then the landlord not only has the right to ask them to vacate or evict but in most cases the legal obligation to do so according to many municipal ordinances.

If a tenant is being abused by an unwelcomed individual (have to let landlord know or restraining order) then the tenant cannot be asked o leave on that basis or evicted. There are limited situations where the landlord has to let the tenant out of the lease and those are not clear and I'll need to determined by case law from my understanding.

If there is no relevant law it is based on what is in the lease and your judgment.  I would tell her to take care of herself first and worry about the lease later.  Don't stir the pot, If he asks to have her name taken off okay if they both agree but I would not approach him on doing this. It is likely to only tick him off which he might take out on her.  

If he stops paying you can evict him for non-payment. If this is serious abuse and there are police disturbances you may be able to evict based on that.  What is the point of taking her off the lease, removing her financial responsibility for the apartment? and if she moves back in? I would imagine you are not going to go after her financially  if she leaves so unless he comes to you with the request I would let it go.    Now if she was staying and asked you to remove him due to a restraining order that would be different. Then I would see what you could do legally.

Sorry, another thought occurred to me.  It could be that there's a nasty split going on and she's trying to get out of her legal obligation there, and possibly even trying to damage his reputation/credit by sticking him with the bill or getting him evicted.  In any event, I don't like to think that of people, just wanted to throw that in the ring to emphasize the need to talk to a lawyer on this.  Wouldn't want to get in trouble for trying to do the "right" thing either.  

@Larry Asiak   just want to point out 2 things. The first is that so far all it sounds like you know came via a text message. Before making a move involving a lease I'd understand more formally what's going on. Is there a police report etc. Also, sounds like you have know this couple for only a few months so you don't know much about them. 

Before reacting too quickly I would suggest getting a few more facts. 

You could always reply that you feel badly for her and want to help in any reasonable way to can, but also let her know you are talking with your lawyer before you are able to do anything. This will slow things down a bit and if she is not being truthful, may cause her to change her story. 

For such a sensitive topic you certainly would want to help her, but I don't think you should make that call before understanding options and verifying validity of a claim from someone you have only know for a few months, and via a text message.

Hope it works out for both you and her, this certainly is a challenging situation.

What would a bank do if it were a  home loan  ?   What does car thats financed ?  The credit cards ?  They are both on the lease , they both are responsible . Do not get involved in the personal problems of the tenants . This sounds like an unfortunate situation , but its for the tenants to work out between themselves .

Thanks everyone for your responses and concern!

I think @Darrin Carey is right there are probably scenarios here.   I don't want to speculate on what's going on domestically, and I must consider how this plays out.

I plan to call her and ask her, if she has moved out, if not then when she plans to.  Because as a landlord, that's my interest, and she has told me she wants to leave.   Of course I will tell her that what she has told me (being badly beaten) sounds horrible and I understand any decesion she needs to make.   That doesn't mean the lease is necessarily absolved for her.   I don't see her staying as she doesn't have the income and her text explicity said she needs to get out of there.  I hope she does.
If I feel it is relevant to the discussion of who is staying and who is paying the rent (i.e. she sounds unsure what she plans to do) I might ask if she has filed a report with the police.     As others have said I can't kick him out based on what she has told me.   I still need to review the lease for a violence clause.   I figure the three possible outcomes are

1) they both stay
2) that she moves out, he stays
3) they both move out

Possible complication being that he stays, she moves out and he doesn't pay.   That's just the usual hassle of being a landlord.   

Since Ohio doesn't have specifications about this scenario on the books yet, I think it best my approach be about who is living at the house and subsequently who is paying me the rent.   

I also always say all decesions need to be reviewed withy my business parteners (somewhat of a falsification), but always gives me leeway to work with making decesions.

Any more input or responses is of course appreciated.

Thanks everyone!

Originally posted by @Darrin Carey:

The Ohio Domestic abuse law has not been passed yet, so there are no limits or guidance there. Be careful about making tenant problems your problem.

Since they both signed the lease, they are both financially responsible. I see three options.

  • If she moves out, and he continues to pay, then no issue.
  • If he can qualify on his own, you can do a new lease just with him (9 or 12 months), and release both of them from the previous lease.
  • If she gets a Protection Order from the court, she stays, and he is essentially evicted, but he is still on the hook for the lease payments if she doesn't pay.

I would absolutely NOT start an eviction based on what you have right now.

One last thought.   She is putting a little bit of an emphasis on the fact that she doesn't want to feel financially obligated to stay there because this is a bad situation for her.    Unfortunately as others have said, this isn't so much my problem.   Of course I feel horrible for her and wish her to get out of this relationship ASAP.   However I will suggest to her that as she told me "he can pay for the place himself no problem", then there will be nothing to come back to her financially.   I will also advise her that if she is considered that there might be problems in the future that her best bet is to report the incident to the authorities and having that on file will help her join responsibility.

Also as everyone has said, I'm just a small time private investor.   It will most likely never be worth it for me to pursue someone for unpaid rent because of the costs of doing so.   So a lot of this is just symantics and avoiding making an emotional decesion.   My focus has to continue to be to just get the rent and maintain a friendly relationship with the tenants.   Which includes not taking sides, but just listening to stories.   

So half a year later the drama thickens...  I ended up allowing him to stay at the place.   The first 3 months he paid rent on time without a  problem.    My friend at one point went in the house to inspect the hvac filter and said the house looked good.   I checked it from the outside - all good.   So on the 4th month he was a little late in paying the rent but he paid a week late including late fees and paid the 5th month upfront.    Now it is the 6 month since the domestic violence report and split.   She moved back in at least once from what I understand.   I get the impression she isn't there now though.  It's the 8th of the month so he is late on rent.    Last thursday I contacted him about it and he said he would have it on Friday.   Friday nothing.   Nothing until Monday when after 3 texts he says he was arrested and his bail took his rent money.   He says he will pay me ASAP, and says maybe even two months upfront like last time.   The thing is 

1) I looked on the county web-site and his arrest is for gun posession

2) The lease officially ends 8/1 and I don't think he realizes this whatsoever and we haven't talked about it.

What to do, what to do.    What does the Bigger Pockets community think? :)

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