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To Escape Abuse, It Helps If You Can Also Leave Your Lease

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By J.D. Hillard | KUSP News

This October, California has been winding up its legislative season for the year. A raft of new laws will be going into effect. Among them is a measure that allows victims of domestic violence to get out of their leases. It was authored in part by Laura Segura of the Watsonville group Women’s Crisis Support – Defensa de Mujeres.

For someone who suffers an assault by a member of their household or who is a victim of human trafficking, getting out of the home may be essential for safety. But if your name’s on the lease, it might not be so easy to leave.

abuser-pq1In 2008, the law cleared an obstacle for victims to get away from abusers by adding making domestic violence to the circumstance in which tenants may break leases. Before that, says Women’s Crisis Support – Defensa de Mujeres director Laura Segura “victims of domestic violence or sexual assault or human trafficking, they were unable to get out of their housing lease and really what that meant is they couldn’t leave their abuser.”

The 2008 law made it easier to get out of an abusive situation, but a lease remains a challenge, Segura says.

Grassroots Leaders Pushing the Law

She was among a group of women community leaders around the state who participated in a Women’s Policy Institute fellowship over the past year. The fellowship includes training in analyzing and developing policy. The women work in teams identifying problems and collaborating with legislators to pass changes in the law. Other teams of fellows this year worked on legislation to eliminate solitary confinement in juvenile hall or to require school districts to contact parents before suspending students.

Segura’s team included fellows who worked in domestic violence support. They began by looking for ways the law could better serve their clients.

“We looked at existing legislation to protect survivors of domestic violence,” Segura says. “We thought ‘What are some of the gaps?’”

Segura’s team set out to make it easier for victims to break leases. The 2008 law said you needed a police report or a restraining order to get out of a lease; their measure expands that so that doctors and domestic violence counselors can also provide the necessary documentation.

“We have seen that many victims of violence cannot go to the police for fear of retaliation or fear of immigration status fear of getting deported or do not go to the courts to get a restraining order.”

Unanimous Passage

Segura’s team then presented it’s ideas to State Senator Mark Leno.

“How the process works is that we put ideas together and then we present them to the staff of the legislators and the legislators decide if they want to proceed with a certain bill.”

Leno’s staff helped draft SB 612 and introduce it in February. The bill ended up passing both houses of the legislature unanimously. Governor Brown signed it in August.

“We were ecstatic to say the least.”

“It makes it safer for everyone including the landlord including the neighbors if victims are able to get out of that lease earlier rather than later which we don’t know what could happen later if the violence continues.”

The enacted law means that as of next July, tenants who move to escape a violent home will be able to fill out a form with the help of a doctor or domestic violence counselor to get their name off a lease.

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