There has been some exciting movement regarding the housing bill that BARCC, Jane Doe, VRLC, GBLS and many other community agencies have been advocating for - An Act Relative to Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence, Rape, Sexual Assault and Stalking. A modified version of the bill was just passed to be engrossed by the Senate – 36 yeas to 0 nays!
A short explanation of the problem that BARCC and many other organizations are trying to address is that many victims of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking in Massachsetts face a crisis in housing stability, homelessness, and public safety because of a lack of housing protections. Two stories are detailed below to provide an example of what many victims face when trying to secure safety after an assault.
- Darcy was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance that lived across the street. Darcy felt unsafe in her apartment and in her neighborhood. Darcy asked her landlord to be released from the lease but he refused. Darcy stayed on a friend’s couch while she continued to pay rent for 7 months.
- John was stalked by a co-worker. John’s apartment was secure but the co-worker had a key from a prior time. For several weeks John would arrive home and find “gifts” on his kitchen table. The landlord refused to permit him to change the locks. Worried about his immediate safety, John moved to a hotel.
This new bill will help to alleviate this crisis by providing rights and protections for victims of these crimes, while still protecting the rights of property owners, in the following ways:
- Prevents owners from refusing to rent a person for reasons related to a person’s early lease termination because of victimization.
- Protects victims from financial penalties of early lease termination solely for reasons related to violence committed against them.
- Authorizes lock changes, at tenant’s expense, to increase safety from violence.
- Current landlord remedies for the protection of property and other tenants remain in tact.
Massachusetts lags behind other states in regards to the protections that this bill would offer.
- Federal housing programs across the US provide similar protections
- Many states have implemented similar measures locally
- Property owners in states with similar laws have not experienced serious negative impacts
The modified bill covers lock changes, early lease termination without penalty, prohibition on disclosure of a person's status as a "victim/survivor" without authorization, and prohibition on refusal to rent because a survivor exercised rights to an early lease termination (it no longer includes provisions related to eviction proceedings).
The next step is to ask the House to take up the version the Senate passed which is now S2402 (formerly S586/H386). We have about 24 hours left in this legislative session to make this happen. Your calls can help make this bill become law in MA so please take a moment to contact your Representative and ask them to request that the Speaker send this bill to the floor for a vote. You can find your Representative here!
For more information about Safe Communities Coalition or a copy of the modified bill (S2402), please contact:
Jane Doe Inc:
Boston Area Rape Crisis Center:
Mgr of Systems Advocacy & Policy Development