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New Massachusetts Domestic Violence Law Enables victims to break leases

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New Massachusetts Domestic Violence Law Enables Victims to Break Leases

Recent changes in Massachusetts domestic violence laws have enabled victims to break their leases under certain circumstances without substantial financial penalties or other ramifications.  This represents important legal advances for the rights of domestic abuse victims. The specific tenants of this new law state:

“Victims of sexual assault and stalking have the right to break their leases without significant financial penalty, have the landlord change their locks, and other important protections.”

In the past, individuals who have been the victims of domestic violence have been forced by their landlords to continue paying rent, faced eviction, and found unwillingness, on the part of the landlord, to assist with changing locks and other basic protective actions. In addition to alleviating victims from financial responsibility and repercussions, the new law makes it illegal for a landlord to refuse to assist a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault on the grounds of their victimization.

Although either sex can be the victim of domestic violence, women are overwhelmingly the victims of such crimes. When the male partner in the relationship is incarcerated for their crimes, many victims have a desire to move from their current location in order to get away from their partners, but they may be bound my leases or contracts that prevent them from doing so. These new laws are designed to make it simpler for women to get away from their abusers.

Here is a list of the most important provisions of the new laws:

§  In order for a victim to be able to break their lease, the victim must provide their landlord with a notice that they were the victim of a sexual assault (or under imminent threat of it occurring) within 3 months of the date the incident occurred.

 

§  A landlord has the right to request documentation to support the victim’s statement, like copies of restraining orders or police reports. However, the landlord is required by law to keep this information confidential.

 

§  If a victim provides their landlord with a notification of their intent to vacate the premises, then he or she is legally relieved of liability financially for approximately 30 days or the equivalency of one rental period. Moreover, they are also entitled to a return of the security deposit and their last month’s rent.

 

§  Anyone in the renter’s household, including dependents, is protected under the new laws.

 

§  If a residency tenant is the victim of stalking or sexual assault, then he or she can request the landlord to change their locks within 48 hours of the incident’s occurrence, but this will be at the financial expense of the tenant. If the landlord fails to do so, then the tenant has the right to change the locks themselves.

 

§  If the individual who commits the crime is a member of the current tenant’s household, then the landlord has the legal authority to change the locks to the home and to institute a lockout by keeping the new key to themselves.

 

§  If a landlord complies fully with these new laws, then he or she is legally absolved from all liability in regards to the perpetrator. However, on the other hand, if a landlord fails to comply fully with these new laws, then the monetary damages that the tenant is entitled to can equal up to 3 times the monthly amount of rent, plus additional payment of the legal fees for the tenant. However, these damages may be offset if the tenant owes any unpaid rent.

 

§  Moreover, a property owner or landlord cannot evict a tenant, who is a victim of such an incident, because of damage to the property caused by a domestic violence incident.

 

This bill has been in the works for several years. It has been the subject of much debate between landlord and tenant industry groups. However, it has won the support and approval of the Small Property Owners Association, amongst other groups. Those who are interested in reading the new laws for themselves can do so here.

Lawmakers and victims’ rights advocacy groups have stated that their ultimate goal is to add additional protections to the bill to domestic violence victims, but they have not yet put a plan in place for turning these protections into law. Although there is still a ways to go, many believe that this new law is a step in the right direction when it comes to protecting the victims of domestic violence.

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