BOSTON — An advocate for victims of domestic violence on the North Shore has told a State House panel that the victims are often trapped into their living arrangements by lease agreements.
Suzanne Dubus, chief executive officer at the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center — based in Amesbury and Newburyport — said some victims will stay with their abuser if the landlord would hold both parties responsible for the payout on the lease.
The possibility of paying rent for an apartment they no longer live in makes leaving unaffordable for most abuse victims, she said. But, those victims will have greater leeway to end their rental leases to protect their safety without fear of financial penalty under a bill moving toward passage in the Legislature.
Domestic violence victims, as well as rape, sexual assault and stalking victims will be able to end their leases if the violent act against them occurred within three months of them giving written notice of their intent to leave.
The three-month stipulation for ending a lease was included in the bill to alleviate landlords’ fears that domestic violence victims could move on short notice even if the abuse they suffered happened well in the past, according
to domestic violence victim advocates.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, was unanimously approved by the Senate on July 30. The House gave it initial approval last week as well.
The measure comes as advocates and law enforcement officials alike are putting increased emphasis on the need to tackle the crimes of domestic abuse — including Gloucester Lt. and Chief of Detectives Kathy Auld, who said during her public interview last Sunday that she would like to step up the fight against domestic violence if she werre to be chosen as the city’s new police chief. She is one of four finalists under consideration for that post, with Mayor Carolyn Kirk expected to choose her nominee early this week.
Typically, in most rental contracts and leases, a tenant who breaks a lease early can be held liable to pay rent for the months remaining on the agreement.
Dubus, whose Geiger Crisis Center that helps victims of domestic violence in the Merrimack Valley , said often an abuse victim will stay with their abuser if the landlord would hold both parties responsible for the payout on the lease. The possibility of paying rent for an apartment they no longer live in makes leaving unaffordable for most abuse victims, she said.
“This will give survivors options. To leave an abusive relationship is already tough enough, and to pile on to that financial penalties… It is not going to be a panacea. What it does is take away another obstacle,” Dubus told lawmakers.
This is the closest the legislation has ever come to passing, advocates said. Landlords groups have fought the changes for years.
At lease 12 other states have similar laws, Creem said on the Senate floor before the bill passed.
Maureen Gallagher, policy director at Jane Doe Inc., a statewide coalition that helps domestic violence victims, said there are many landlords in the state who are sympathetic to the plights of abuse victims and will not hold them to their leases.
“There are landlords who are doing this already, who are really helpful and supportive. It is just to ensure that these protections are available to all people in this circumstance,” Gallagher said.