Housing Protections and Options for Domestic Violence Victims
If you are in danger, call 9-1-1, and get help immediately.
Topics on this page
- Protective Orders
- Rental Housing
- Emergency Shelters
- Transitional Housing
- Financial Assistance
A protective order is an order issued by judge that can help you protect yourself against abuse. A protective order can provide housing protections.
Depending on your specific circumstances, a judge can order the abuser to leave the home where you two live if:
- you are married to the abuser AND you were living together at the time of the abuse; OR
- you are not married to the abuser, but were living together at the time of the abuse AND had a sexual relationship (more than living together as roommates) AND your name is on the lease or deed for the home; OR
- you are not married, but you lived with the abuser AND had a sexual relationship with the abuser for at least 90 days within the past year.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 4-506(d)(4)
Through a protective order, and judge can also order the abuser to:
- stay away from the place where you may be staying as well as family members’ homes;
- stay away from you and to not try to contact you or harass you; and
- stay out of your home.
NOTE: Getting a Protective Order does not mean that you can automatically remove an abuser from the home. Be specific when you ask the judge for relief, and read the Protective Order carefully.
Maryland laws give victims of abuse added protections.
Getting Out of Your Lease - You can end your lease early if you are a victim of abuse who needs to move for your safety. You must give your landlord written notice by first-class mail or hand delivery. You have up to 30 days to vacate the leased premises from the date of providing the written notice to the landlord. Your notice must include documentation that you are a victim of abuse and the date you intend to leave. Documented proof of abuse may include:
Qualified third parties include:
- a physician
- a psychologist
- a a social worker or caseworker of any public or private health or social services agency or provider
- an advocate from a domestic violence or sexual assault prevention or assistance program
A report from a third party must state that the tenant sought assistance as a result of an act of abuse. The report must be signed and acknowledged by you under penalty of perjury. The report must also include the following information:
- Your name
- A statement that you are a victim of abuse;
- The date, time, location, and a brief description of the incident;
- The name and physical description of the alleged offender, if known;
- The name and address of the employer of the qualified third party;
- The licensing entity and license number of the qualified third party, if the qualified third party is required to be licensed; and
- The signature of the qualified third party, under seal of a notary public
The law prohibits landlords from disclosing this information without written consent of the tenant. You are only responsible for rent up to 30 days after giving your landlord written notice and proof of abuse. If your notice states you will leave in 15 days, you are only responsible for 15 days worth of rent.
If you do not move out within the 30 days of providing the notice and copy of court order to the landlord, then the landlord, with written notice to you, may:
- have legal remedies for a tenant holding over or
- deem that your notice of intent to vacate has been rescinded and the terms of the original lease are in full force and effect.
Note that a person cannot use these protections to break a lease when he/she is the person against whom a final protective or peace order has been brought. The law only allows the victim of abuse to break a lease.
Changing Your Locks - Your landlord is required to change your locks if you are a victim of domestic violence and have a protective order, or you are a victim of sexual assault and have a peace order. The court order must require that the abuser refrain from entering the residence and/or vacate the residence. You must ask your landlord, in writing, to change your locks and include a copy of your court order.
Your landlord must change the locks by the end of the next business day. Your landlord may charge a reasonable fee for changing the locks. You must pay the fee within 45 days. If you do not pay the fee, the landlord can add the amount to your rent or withhold it from your security deposit.
If your landlord does not change the locks by the end of the next business day, you can hire a certified locksmith to change the locks. Give your landlord a copy of the new key by the end of the next business day.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Property § 8-5A-06
Eviction Defense - If your landlord tries to evict you because of an incident of domestic violence or sexual assault:
- Go to court, and tell the judge what happened.
- If you have a final protective order or peace order, bring it with you to court to give the judge. Providing a copy of the protective order or peace order to the Judge creates a rebuttable presumption that any breach of lease does not warrant eviction.
- If you do not have a final protective order or peace order:
- tell the judge that you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault; and
- bring any proof of the domestic violence or sexual assault with you to court, such as a police report, doctor’s report, pictures, etc.
- Note that, even without a peace order or protective order, the court may exercise its discretion to rule in the tenant’s favor (i.e., rule that any breach of the lease does not warrant eviction).
The law requires the judge to consider any evidence about domestic violence or sexual assault in eviction cases.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Real Property § 8-5A-05
Emergency shelters can provide you and your children with temporary housing. The locations of these shelters are generally confidential. The types of emergency shelters can vary (e.g., private rooms with shared communal spaces, private units, or temporary stays in hotel rooms.
Some shelters provide child care, job training, health services, and other services. The length of time that you and your children can stay in an emergency shelter will depend on your specific circumstances as well as the policies of the individual shelter. Availability can be limited.
Note that emergency shelters are not issues addressed by a court issuing a peace order or a protective order. Learn more about safety planning.
It may be a challenge to find an emergency shelter that will allow you to bring your pets. Learn more about safety planning for your pets.
Contact a local domestic violence organization for more information about available shelters.
Transitional housing provides for an extended stay beyond what would be provided in an emergency shelter. Extended stays can range from 6 months to 2 years, but this will vary from organization to organization. The types of arrangements can also vary (e.g., shared home, private units, etc.).
Transitional housing is not an issue addressed by a court issuing a peace order or a protective order. Learn more about safety planning.
It may be a challenge to find transitional that will allow you to bring your pets. Learn more about safety planning for your pets.
Contact a local domestic violence organization for more information about available shelters.
Lack of funds can be a barrier to finding safe housing. Below are some potential resources.
Protective Orders can award financial assistance to a petitioner called Emergency Family Maintenance. Emergency family maintenance is financial support for the family, which includes financial support for the Petitioner/victim (similar to alimony) and any children (similar to child support).
- If you are married to the abuser, the judge can order the abuser to pay money to help support you for the duration of the protective order.
- If you have children with the abuser, the judge can order the abuser to pay support for the children.
The standard that a Judge considers in determining the appropriate amount of emergency family maintenance is within the Judge’s discretion, based on (1) the need of the Petitioner/victim and (2) the resources available to the Petitioner/victim as well as the Respondent/abuser. Be prepared to present your specific needs to the Court, including but not limited to specific amounts for expenses/monthly bills as well as any information you have about the Respondent/abuser’s income. Learn more about filing for a protective order.
It is vitally important that you understand that the standard for emergency family maintenance is very different than the standard for ordering child support in a divorce/custody case. Child support is ordered pursuant to the Maryland Child Support Guidelines (and is much more strict in terms of amount than the discretion exercised in ordering emergency family maintenance).
If you are awarded emergency family maintenance in a protective order and then child support is subsequently ordered in a divorce or custody case, the award of child support will supercede the award of emergency family maintenance, and the Respondent/abuser will owe the amount ordered under the child support guidelines (which is often less than what is ordered as emergency family maintenance). Learn more about child support.
It is possible to request, and be ordered temporary alimony as part of a divorce case, but that option is not available if the parties are not married and the case is custody only. Learn more about alimony.
Maryland Department of Human Services - Financial assistance may be available through the Maryland Department of Human Services. Contact your local social services office for more information and assistance.
Emergency Shelters and Transitional Housing - Program fees are often assessed on a sliding scale by organizations that provide emergency shelter and transitional housing. Contact a local organization for more information.
Subsidized and assisted low-income housing programs (like public housing, HUD housing, and section 8 housing) are open to people of limited income, although the exact limits vary. Learn more about subsidized and public housing.