Phil Querin Q&A: Is Domestic Violence a Defense to Non-Payment of Rent?

Want access to MHCO content?

For complete access to forms, conference presentations, community updates and MHCO columns, log in to your account or register.

April 17, 2014

Question: I have a tenant that I issued a 72 Hour Non-Payment of Rent notice to last month. When I served it she told me that she is a victim of domestic violence and would provide me a copy of the restraining order, she also told me that she would have her attorney contact me. Neither occurred. She paid her rent by the final date on the notice. She hasn't paid rent yet this month. I still have no copies of a restraining order, nor has her husband informed me that he has moved out. She is the only one to tell me about domestic violence. I just served her with another 72 hour notice. She is upset and yelled that I can't evict her because she is still dealing with issues as a victim of domestic violence. She also told me that she now has two attorneys and that she will have them both call me. I informed her to read the notice carefully as rent will need to be paid by the 13th or I would file in court on the 14th. My question is this: Is domestic violence a recognized defense to non-payment of rent?

Answer: Domestic violence is a defense to eviction, but only under the proper circumstances. I have set out the law in its entirety below. As you can see, the law presumes there has been a violent act for which the landlord is evicting everyone in the space, i.e. the villain and the victim. The domestic violence law says you cannot evict the victim for the violent act. But it also says the villain and the victim are still responsible for rent. It also requires a valid third-party affirmation to the event. In short, based on your question, it does not sound as if the domestic violence statute will provide a defense to an action for nonpayment of rent. You should tell the victim that you do not believe the domestic violence law applies in these circumstances (i.e. nonpayment of rent) and that if her attorney believes otherwise, he must call you immediately and explain why. Is she is a serial late pay for which you have to issue multiple non-payment of rent notices, you might consider a 3-strikes notice under ORS 90.630(8). DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULT OR STALKING 90.445 Termination of tenant committing criminal act of physical violence. (1) If a tenant perpetrates a criminal act of physical violence related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking against a household member who is a tenant, after delivery of at least 24 hours’ written notice specifying the act or omission constituting the cause and specifying the date and time of the termination, the landlord may: (a) Terminate the rental agreement of the perpetrating tenant, but may not terminate the rental agreement of the other tenants; and (b) If the perpetrator of the criminal act of physical violence related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking continues to occupy the premises after the termination date and time specified in the notice, seek a court order under ORS 105.128 to remove the perpetrator from the premises and terminate the perpetrator’s tenancy without seeking a return of possession from the remaining tenants. (2) A landlord that terminates the tenancy of a perpetrator under this section may not require the remaining tenants to pay additional rent or an additional deposit or fee due to exclusion of the perpetrator. (3) The perpetrator is jointly liable with any other tenants of the dwelling unit for rent or damages to the premises incurred prior to the later of the date the perpetrator vacates the premises or the termination date specified in the notice. (4) The landlord’s burden of proof in a removal action sought under this section is by a preponderance of the evidence. [2007 c.508 §3] 90.449 Landlord discrimination against victim; exception; tenant defenses and remedies. (1) A landlord may not terminate or fail to renew a tenancy, serve a notice to terminate a tenancy, bring or threaten to bring an action for possession, increase rent, decrease services or refuse to enter into a rental agreement: (a) Because a tenant or applicant is, or has been, a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. (b) Because of a violation of the rental agreement or a provision of this chapter, if the violation consists of an incident of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking committed against the tenant or applicant. (c) Because of criminal activity relating to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking in which the tenant or applicant is the victim, or of any police or emergency response related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking in which the tenant or applicant is the victim. (2) A landlord may not impose different rules, conditions or standards or selectively enforce rules, conditions or standards against a tenant or applicant on the basis that the tenant or applicant is or has been a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. (3) Notwithstanding subsections (1) and (2) of this section, a landlord may terminate the tenancy of a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking if the landlord has previously given the tenant a written warning regarding the conduct of the perpetrator relating to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking and: (a) The tenant permits or consents to the perpetrator’s presence on the premises and the perpetrator is an actual and imminent threat to the safety of persons on the premises other than the victim; or (b) The perpetrator is an unauthorized occupant and the tenant permits or consents to the perpetrator living in the dwelling unit without the permission of the landlord. (4) If a landlord violates this section: (a) A tenant or applicant may recover up to two months’ periodic rent or twice the actual damages sustained by the tenant or applicant, whichever is greater; (b) The tenant has a defense to an action for possession by the landlord; and (c) The applicant may obtain injunctive relief to gain possession of the dwelling unit. (5) Notwithstanding ORS 105.137 (4), if a tenant asserts a successful defense under subsection (4) of this section to an action for possession, the tenant is not entitled to prevailing party fees, attorney fees or costs and disbursements if the landlord: (a) Did not know, and did not have reasonable cause to know, at the time of commencing the action that a violation or incident on which the action was based was related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking; and (b) Promptly dismissed tenants other than the perpetrator from the action upon becoming aware that the violation or incident on which the action was based was related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. [2007 c.508 §4; 2011 c.42 §9] 90.453 Termination by tenant who is victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking; verification statement. (1) As used in this section: (a) “Immediate family member” means, with regard to a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, any of the following who is not a perpetrator of the domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking against the tenant: (A) An adult person related by blood, adoption, marriage or domestic partnership, as defined in ORS 106.310, or as defined or described in similar law in another jurisdiction; (B) A cohabitant in an intimate relationship; (C) An unmarried parent of a joint child; or (D) A child, grandchild, foster child, ward or guardian of the victim or of anyone listed in subparagraph (A), (B) or (C) of this paragraph. (b) “Qualified third party” means a person that has had individual contact with the tenant and is a law enforcement officer, attorney or licensed health professional or is a victim’s advocate at a victim services provider. (c) “Verification” means: (A) A copy of a valid order of protection issued by a court pursuant to ORS 30.866, 107.095 (1)(c), 107.716, 107.718 or 163.738 or any other federal, state, local or tribal court order that restrains a person from contact with the tenant; (B) A copy of a federal agency or state, local or tribal police report regarding an act of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking against the tenant; (C) A copy of a conviction of any person for an act of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking against the tenant; or (D) A statement substantially in the form set forth in subsection (3) of this section. (d) “Victim services provider” means: (A) A nonprofit agency or program receiving moneys administered by the Department of Human Services or the Department of Justice that offers safety planning, counseling, support or advocacy to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking; or (B) A prosecution-based victim assistance program or unit. (2)(a) If a tenant gives a landlord at least 14 days’ written notice, and the notice so requests, the landlord shall release the tenant and any immediate family member of the tenant from the rental agreement. (b) The notice given by the tenant must specify the release date and must list the names of any immediate family members to be released in addition to the tenant. (c) The notice must be accompanied by verification that the tenant: (A) Is protected by a valid order of protection; or (B) Has been the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking within the 90 days preceding the date of the notice. For purposes of this subparagraph, any time the perpetrator was incarcerated or residing more than 100 miles from the victim’s home does not count as part of the 90-day period. (3) A verification statement must be signed by the tenant and the qualified third party and be in substantially the following form: ______________________________________________________________________________ QUALIFIED THIRD PARTY VERIFICATION ______________________ Name of qualified third party ______________________ Name of tenant PART 1. STATEMENT BY TENANT I, ________(Name of tenant), do hereby state as follows: (A) I or a minor member of my household have been a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, as those terms are defined in ORS 90.100. (B) The most recent incident(s) that I rely on in support of this statement occurred on the following date(s):_________. ___The time since the most recent incident took place is less than 90 days; or ___The time since the most recent incident took place is less than 90 days if periods when the perpetrator was incarcerated or was living more than 100 miles from my home are not counted. The perpetrator was incarcerated from ____________ to____________. The perpetrator lived more than 100 miles from my home from ___________ to___________. (C) I hereby declare that the above statement is true to the best of my knowledge and belief, and that I understand it is made for use as evidence in court and is subject to penalty for perjury. ______________________ (Signature of tenant) Date: ________ PART 2. STATEMENT BY QUALIFIED THIRD PARTY I, ________(Name of qualified third party), do hereby verify as follows: (A) I am a law enforcement officer, attorney or licensed health professional or a victim’s advocate with a victims services provider, as defined in ORS 90.453. (B) My name, business address and business telephone are as follows: ___________________________ ___________________________ ___________________________ (C) The person who signed the statement above has informed me that the person or a minor member of the person’s household is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, based on incidents that occurred on the dates listed above. (D) I reasonably believe the statement of the person above that the person or a minor member of the person’s household is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, as those terms are defined in ORS 90.100. I understand that the person who made the statement may use this document as a basis for gaining a release from the rental agreement with the person’s landlord. I hereby declare that the above statement is true to the best of my knowledge and belief, and that I understand it is made for use as evidence in court and is subject to penalty for perjury. ______________________ (Signature of qualified third party making this statement) Date: ________ ______________________________________________________________________________ (4) A tenant and any immediate family member who is released from a rental agreement pursuant to subsection (2) of this section: (a) Is not liable for rent or damages to the dwelling unit incurred after the release date; and (b) Is not subject to any fee solely because of termination of the rental agreement. (5) Notwithstanding the release from a rental agreement of a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking and any tenant who is an immediate family member of that tenant, other tenants remain subject to the rental agreement. (6) A landlord may not disclose any information provided by a tenant under this section to a third party unless the disclosure is: (a) Consented to in writing by the tenant; (b) Required for use in an eviction proceeding; (c) Made to a qualified third party; or (d) Required by law. (7) The provision of a verification statement under subsection (2) of this section does not waive the confidential or privileged nature of a communication between the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking and a qualified third party. [2003 c.378 §4; 2007 c.508 §9; 2011 c.42 §9a] 90.456 Other tenants remaining in dwelling unit following tenant termination or exclusion due to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Notwithstanding the release of a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, and any immediate family members of that tenant, from a rental agreement under ORS 90.453 or the exclusion of a perpetrator of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking as provided in ORS 90.459 or 105.128, if there are any remaining tenants of the dwelling unit, the tenancy shall continue for those tenants. Any fee, security deposit or prepaid rent paid by the victim, perpetrator or other tenants shall be applied, accounted for or refunded by the landlord following termination of the tenancy and delivery of possession by the remaining tenants as provided in ORS 90.300 and 90.302. [2003 c.378 §6; 2007 c.508 §10; 2007 c.508 §11; 2011 c.42 §9b] 90.459 Change of locks at request of tenant who is victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. (1) A tenant may give actual notice to the landlord that the tenant is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking and may request that the locks to the dwelling unit be changed. A tenant is not required to provide verification of the domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to initiate the changing of the locks. (2) A landlord who receives a request under subsection (1) of this section shall promptly change the locks to the tenant’s dwelling unit at the tenant’s expense or shall give the tenant permission to change the locks. If a landlord fails to promptly act, the tenant may change the locks without the landlord’s permission. If the tenant changes the locks, the tenant shall give a key to the new locks to the landlord. (3) If the perpetrator of the domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking is a tenant in the same dwelling unit as the victim: (a) Before the landlord or tenant changes the locks under this section, the tenant must provide the landlord with a copy of an order issued by a court pursuant to ORS 107.716 or 107.718 or any other federal, state, local or tribal court that orders the perpetrator to move out of the dwelling unit. (b) The landlord has no duty under the rental agreement or by law to allow the perpetrator access to the dwelling unit or provide keys to the perpetrator, during the term of the court order or after expiration of the court order, or to provide the perpetrator access to the perpetrator’s personal property within the dwelling unit. Notwithstanding ORS 90.425, 90.435 or 90.675, if a landlord complies completely and in good faith with this section, the landlord is not liable to a perpetrator excluded from the dwelling unit. (c) The perpetrator is jointly liable with any other tenant of the dwelling unit for rent or damages to the dwelling unit incurred prior to the date the perpetrator was excluded from the dwelling unit. (d) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, the landlord may not require the tenant to pay additional rent or an additional deposit or fee because of the exclusion of the perpetrator. (e) The perpetrator’s tenancy terminates by operation of law upon an order described in paragraph (a) of this subsection becoming a final order. [2003 c.378 §5; 2007 c.508 §11]