House passes lease protections for domestic violence victims

By Bruce Schreiner - Associated Press

FRANKFORT (AP) — Victims of domestic violence trying to escape their abusers would be allowed to break rental agreements without fear of penalty, under a bill the Kentucky House approved Wednesday.

Advocates for victims of domestic violence say women often feel compelled to stay with their abusers rather than pay the penalties to break leases to get away from their tormenters.

The legislation “takes down one of those barriers to leaving an abusive relationship,” said Rep. Joni Jenkins, the bill’s lead sponsor. “We know that many times it’s economics, not being able to afford to break a lease.”

The bill passed the House on a 90-3 vote. It now goes to the Senate.

To qualify for the lease-breaking protection, a victim would have to go to court and obtain a long-term protective order and then give 30 days’ written notice to the landlord.

Currently, victims who break rental agreements to move away from their abusers can end up paying rent for the duration of the leases, even if they’re no longer living there, the bill’s supporters say. Also, victims who break their leases can sometimes face problems trying to persuade new landlords to rent to them.

At a committee hearing last month, supporters said 29 states provide some types of leasing protections for domestic violence victims, including 20 states that allow early termination of rental agreements.

Jenkins traced the bill’s origins to a conversation she had with a man whose daughter was involved in an abusive relationship at college.

The daughter lived in the same apartment complex as her abuser. She obtained a protective order, but she stayed in the complex for some time because it was so expensive to break the lease, Jenkins said.

That situation prompted her to ask victims’ advocates how often they see similar cases.

“Unfortunately across the commonwealth, we see this again and again and again,” Jenkins said.

The measure also would protect people from being evicted solely because they were victims of domestic or dating violence and obtained protective orders.

Under another provision, victims could ask their landlords to change the locks to their housing unit at the tenant’s expense. Landlords would have 72 hours to change the locks.

The legislation is House Bill 41.

By Bruce Schreiner

Associated Press

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