How Should I Handle a Domestic Violence Dispute in My Indianapolis Rental Property?
Domestic violence probably isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Landlord responsibilities.
It may not even come to mind at all.
But the fact is, that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced some form of domestic violence within their lifetime. While these are disturbing statistics, they reveal how critical it is that Landlords and Property Managers understand their local laws, both to help protect Tenants and to avoid unwittingly breaking Landlord-Tenant laws.
So, if you haven’t guessed already, we’re going to take some time to discuss an Indianapolis Landlord’s obligations in a domestic violence situation.
What is Domestic Violence?
Under Indiana state law IC 35-31.5-2-76 crimes involving family or domestic violence means a crime that occurs when a family or household member commits, attempts to commit, or conspires to commit any of the following against another family or household member:
- A homicide offense
- A battery offense
- Kidnapping or confinement
- Human and sexual trafficking crimes
- A sex offense
- Burglary or trespass
- Disorderly conduct
- Intimidation or harassment
- A crime involving animal cruelty and a family or household member
There are some important terms you should know as well:
- Applicable Offense – Refers to any of the crimes listed above.
- Applicant – An individual who applies to a Landlord to enter into a lease of a dwelling unit.
- Dwelling Unit – A building, structure, or other enclosed space, permanent or temporary, movable or fixed, that is a person’s home or place of lodging.
- Perpetrator – An individual who has been convicted of, or has been determined to have committed an applicable offense.
- Protected Individual – An applicant who is: a victim or an alleged victim of an applicable offense, who has received a civil order for protection issued or recognized by a court that restrains a perpetrator from contact with the individual, or has received a criminal no contact order that restrains a perpetrator from contact with the individual.
How Do I Know if My Tenant is Really a Victim of Domestic Violence?
If you stay in this industry long enough, you’ll eventually get a phone call from a Tenant who claims to be a victim of domestic violence.
Understand this… not all individuals claiming domestic violence are entitled to legal protection and, thus, classified as a “Protected Individual.”
So, just because your Tenant calls and demands out of their lease, you aren’t necessarily required to oblige.
You are entitled to verify any and all claims from a Tenant before fulfilling your obligations. This is most commonly done by requesting a civil order for protection or a criminal no-contact order from the Tenant.
If the Tenant doesn’t have either of these documents, you have no legal obligation to take further steps.
If the Tenant does provide one of these documents, they are considered a “Protected Individual” and are entitled to certain rights.
There are two basic rights to consider:
- Tenant’s Rights to Terminate Lease Agreement
A Tenant who is deemed a Protected Individual may terminate their rights and obligations under a rental agreement by providing the landlord with a written notice of termination.
This notice must be provided at least 30 days in advance of the desired move-out date and requires a copy of the following:
- A civil order of protection or criminal no-contact order
- A safety plan that is dated not more than 30 days before the date on which the protected individual provides the written notice to the landlord, provided by an accredited domestic violence or sexual assault program, and recommends relocation of the protected Individual.
If the Protected Individual chooses to terminate their lease, they are liable for the rent and other expenses due under the rental agreement, prorated to the effective date of the termination and are required to pay at the agreed upon time stated in the lease.
2. Lock Change Requirements
In some cases, the Protected Individual will not want to break their lease, but will want the locks changed. If a Protected Individual requests a lock change, you are legally obligated to make that happen.
There are 2 different scenarios that will affect the time frame in which you will be required to get the locks changed and provide new keys:
- If the Perpetrator has been restrained from contact with the Tenant and is not a member of the household, then you must have the locks changed no later than 48 hours after the Tenant gives you a copy of the court order.
- If the Perpetrator has been restrained from contact with the Tenant and is a member of the household, then you are required to have the locks changed no later than 24 hours after the Tenant has provided you with a court order.
In both cases, the Tenant is responsible for reimbursing you for the cost of getting the locks changed. However, if you fail to complete the requested action within the allotted time period, then you will be required to pay for the lock change.
Below are couple of other considerations when dealing with domestic violence issues:
A Landlord may not terminate a lease, refuse to renew a lease, refuse to enter into a lease, or retaliate against a Tenant solely because they are a Protected Individual.
Many Landlords get into fair housing trouble when they try to evict everyone involved in the dispute just to be done with it, or when they refuse to renew a lease with the Protected Individual in fear they will have to deal with the problem again.
If you haven’t been in this situation before, then you may think, “of course I’ll be understanding and sympathetic towards the victims”, but if you have to deal with police on a weekly basis, there’s damage being done to your property, and you’re getting complaints left and right, it can cause you to have an adverse reaction.
This is what you need to avoid. As much as you may want to, you can’t take your frustrations out on the Protected Individuals.
Liability of a Perpetrator who is a Tenant
A perpetrator who is a tenant and who is excluded from a dwelling unit under a court order remains liable under the lease with other tenants of the dwelling unit for rent and for the cost of damages to the dwelling unit.
On a similar note, you may want to proceed with a formal eviction to have the Perpetrator taken off the lease so that in the event that the Protected Individual reconciles with them, they legally cannot reside in your property again and start the cycle all over.
At the end of the day, property management is a people business, and when you’re dealing with human beings, there is no telling what may come into play.
Based on the statistics, if you own rental properties for any extended period of time, you’re most likely going to have to deal with a domestic violence claim and you must be ready to act accordingly.