Whether one has ever experienced or witnessed domestic violence, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault or not, it is easy to imagine the horror that can ensue after such an attack or stalking, especially when a victim is unable to get out of a lease agreement to move away from the scene of the crime without paying any penalties.
That is why Nevada has a specific statute, NRS 118A.345, which allows a victim of domestic violence, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault to terminate a lease agreement without penalty.
The statute states that a victim may terminate a rental agreement by giving the landlord written notice of termination effective at the end of the current rental period, or 30 days after notice, whichever is sooner.
There are, however, some requirements in the statute that must be met before the statute goes into effect. If a tenant is a victim of domestic violence, the written notice provided to the landlord must describe the reason for the termination. That notice should be given to the landlord along with a copy of an order for protection against domestic violence, a copy of a written report from a law enforcement agency, or a copy of a written affidavit signed by a qualified third party in their “official capacity” stating that the tenant experienced domestic violence and identifying the alleged perpetrator of the domestic violence.
Who is a qualified third party? The statute defines it. A qualified third party who may provide an affidavit can be a licensed Nevada physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, registered nurse (if they have a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing), marriage and family therapist, clinical professional counselor, an individual who has received training and is employed by an agency which provides services to domestic violence victims, or a member of the clergy of a church. This list essentially encompasses doctors, mental health professionals, domestic violence advocates, and religious leaders.
The fact that the statute allows for such an affidavit to be used in place of a protective order or police report is significant. In many instances, domestic violence victims do not want to obtain a protective order or report it to the police. Their reasons for this can be many, but in many cases it has to do with a fear of retribution if such action is taken. Allowing for an affidavit from a therapist, pastor, or domestic violence advocate helps to get victims away from their abuser without forcing them to file a police report or seek a protective order when that victim does not want, or is not yet ready, to do so.
In addition to domestic violence, as stated, the statute also covers harassment, sexual assault, and stalking. The statute states that in these circumstances, the victim should provide the notice to the landlord along with a written report from law enforcement or a temporary or extended protection order. Notably, the statute does not provide for the use of an affidavit from a qualified third party for harassment, sexual assault, and stalking.
The statute also imposes a time period during which a victim must give notice. It states that a rental agreement may only be terminated if the domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking occurred within the 90 days immediately preceding the written notice. More simply put, the written notice must be provided to the landlord within 90 days of the incident.
The next part of the statute states that a tenant who terminates a rental agreement pursuant to the statute is only liable for any rent owed or required to be paid through the date of termination and any other outstanding obligations. This means that if, for example, a tenant signed a six-month lease, and three months into said lease provides notice under the statute due to a domestic violence incident, the landlord cannot make the tenant liable for all six months of the lease, only three months, plus the 30 days after the notice, until the tenant moves out.
Additionally, the statute states that the landlord should not withhold any security deposit paid by the tenant due to the early termination unless there is good cause (repairs or needed cleaning, etc.). The landlord cannot retain the security deposit just because of the early termination of the lease.
Next, the statute states that the tenant may require a landlord to install a new lock if the tenant pays for the new lock after giving notice. The landlord can retain a copy of the new key but must refuse to provide the key to the alleged perpetrator of domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking – even if that perpetrator is also a tenant of the same home.
Finally, a landlord who has had their lease terminated under the statute cannot disclose the fact that the lease was terminated early to a tenant’s new landlord. Similarly, tenants who terminate a lease early due to domestic violence, harassment, stalking, or sexual assault are not required to disclose the early termination to a new landlord.
How do you know whether you have been the victim of domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking? The statute points to other sections of the Nevada Revised Statutes that define each of these crimes. Domestic violence, defined in NRS 33.018, is defined fairly broadly. Domestic violence encompasses several different types of behavior, including battery, assault, coercion, sexual assault, or other “reckless conduct intended to harass” (which includes things like killing animals, destroying private property, arson, stalking, etc.). These behaviors can be considered domestic violence when the perpetrator is the victim’s spouse, former spouse, relative (by blood or marriage), romantic partner, co-parent, the minor child of any of those people, the perpetrator’s minor child, or any other person who has custody or guardianship over the perpetrator’s minor child.
Thus, we typically think of domestic violence being perpetrated against a spouse or romantic partner, it can be broader than that. If, for example, a perpetrator shares custody of a minor child with that child’s grandparent, violence upon the grandparent could be considered domestic violence. Additionally, if a perpetrator lives with a romantic partner and that partner’s child from another relationship, any violence upon the child could also be considered domestic violence. Similarly, if, for example, a perpetrator happens to be roommates with their cousin, violence against the cousin could be considered domestic violence as well.
Harassment is defined in NRS 200.571. A person has committed harassment if they knowingly threaten to cause bodily injury to a victim, threaten to cause physical damage to a victim’s property, subject the victim to physical confinement or restraint, or any other act that it intended to “substantially harm” the person in terms of their physical or mental health or safety.
Stalking, which is similar to and often overlaps with harassment, is defined in NRS 200.575. Stalking involves a willful and malicious course of conduct towards a victim that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed, or fearful for their immediate safety, and the victim actually does feel that way. Stalking can involve repeated unwanted contact (for example, dozens of unanswered and unwanted phone calls), making threats, following someone, and spying or monitoring someone without consent.
Finally, sexual assault is defined in NRS 200.366 and involves sexual penetration without consent or under conditions in which the perpetrator knows the victim is mentally or physically incapable of resisting or understanding. This means that sexual assault does not need to be forceful to be illegal. The statute also encompasses sexual activity with a child under that age of 14 years old.
If you are the victim of domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault or stalking and need to get out of a lease agreement to obtain safe housing, an experienced attorney can help you prepare the necessary paperwork and deal with your landlord. The Civil Law Self Help Center, located at the Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas, provides information and forms as well.