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States Focus on Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence, Expanding to Individuals Needing Emergency Assistance

Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence

State policymakers are focusing their attention this year on legislation that provides protections in rental housing for victims of domestic violence and extending some protections to varying degrees to other victims of crime. In some states, these protections have been made applicable to victims of dating violence, sexual assault, harassment and stalking in line with the federal Violence Against Women Act, and now, in some cases, to victims of crime in general.

This trend may be a preemptive response to guidance released by HUD in September 2016. HUD’s guidance speaks to the effect of local nuisance ordinances, which sometimes result in housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence and other persons in need of emergency services, having a disparate impact on members of protected classes under the federal Fair Housing Act. Eighty percent of domestic violence victims are women, and in some communities, racial or ethnic minorities are disproportionately victimized by crime. These ordinances revictimize victims of crime, specifically domestic violence victims, when they result in eviction or denial of future housing opportunities because of excessive calls for police or emergency services by the resident, deemed as nuisance conduct. A sampling of states that were recently engaged on this issue follows.

On April 11, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed House Bill 309 into law. Effective June 28, the new law allows a “protected tenant” as defined to terminate his or her lease early without penalty. The resident must provide the owner/manager with 30 days’ notice, a valid protective order and demonstrate a safety concern to the owner/manager that has arisen after the execution of the lease. HB309 also does the following:

• Prohibits an owner from giving the resident a negative credit entry or a negative character reference, or from holding the resident liable for any rent or fees due to the early termination of tenancy.
• Requires the resident to be liable for rent due under the lease prorated to the effective date of the termination and payable at the time that would have been required by the terms of the lease.
• Bars owners from terminating, failing to renew, refusing to enter into or otherwise retaliating in the renting or leasing to an individual because of his or her protected status
• Compels owners to allow protected tenants, at the tenants’ expense, to install new locks.
• Protects residents generally, who call for assistance from peace officers or other assistance in response to emergencies, from penalties imposed by apartment owners/managers.

Similar to the Kentucky law, the Colorado General Assembly delivered House Bill 1035 to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature on May 2. The newly enacted Colorado law extends early termination protections for victims of domestic violence or domestic abuse to victims of unlawful sexual behavior and stalking. Without action by the Governor, the bill becomes law and takes effect immediately. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval approved Assembly Bill 247 in May. The bill extends existing protections for a tenant, cotenant or household member who is a domestic violence victim, including rights to early termination and rekeying, to victims of harassment, sexual assault or stalking. It becomes effective on Oct. 1.

Another Nevada bill of interest is Assembly Bill 133, approved by Sandoval on May 22. This new law prohibits owners from taking any adverse action against a resident, including, without limitation, evicting, imposing a fine or taking any other punitive action against the resident, based solely upon the resident or another person in the dwelling of the resident requesting emergency assistance if the resident or other person had a reasonable belief that an emergency response was necessary or that criminal activity may have occurred, regardless of any other previous requests for emergency assistance by the resident or other person. It also prohibits local governments, or any other political subdivision in the state, from deeming there to be a nuisance or taking any other adverse action against an owner based solely upon the resident or another person in the dwelling of the resident requesting emergency assistance in accordance with the bill. The bill does not prohibit an owner from removing a resident under current nuisance abatements laws, codified as NRS 40.140. AB133 takes effect on July 1. Missouri, New York and Texas also considered similar proposals this year.

Indiana Senate Bill 558, signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb on May 2, addresses concerns related to police run fees and contains a victim exception. SB 558 continues to allow local governments to adopt police fees, fines or penalties for contacting the police but requires the amount charged not to exceed $250 and be assessed against the resident as opposed to the property owner. The bill also establishes a statewide victim exception providing that victims of crime or abuse or those calling on their behalf cannot be penalized for contacting the police. These provisions become effective July 1. This bill was viewed as a key priority for the Indiana Apartment Association this legislative session, in addition to the above, the language addressed several issues affecting owners, including inclusionary zoning and occupancy standards. The language contained in the bill will help push the industry forward and provide a protection for victims who live in multifamily properties in the state.

For more information on housing protections for victims of crime, please contact NAA’s Nicole Upano.