When a person is trying to get out of a domestic violence situation one of their needs is a place to live, sometimes for children as well as their self. If that person is under a lease agreement, property owners are under no legal obligation to release that person. This could have lasting repercussions both financially and in finding another place to live.
“This legislation would go a long way to help victims get a safe place to live,” said Heather Silverman with the National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis.
Those bills would prevent anyone at risk of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking from being evicted, being denied tenancy, or violating a lease agreement as a result of that risk. A person who was a victim or in imminent danger of being victimized would be able to use that as a defense if a landlord takes them to court. The bills would establish what evidence a landlord must accept as proof of such situations.
Kate Heinen with the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault told the House Committee on Children and Families, “In 2014 … 23,000 women and children were denied shelter [in Missouri] because the shelters were full, and shelters are often full because people arrive in one and then realize that there’s going to be a much longer trajectory before they can access safe housing because of their disrupted rental history, because there’s no laws to protect them.
“Allowing someone to be resolved of their lease agreement when they show some supporting documentation from a local program agency – an order of protection, a court record, anything that’s listed in the bill – is profound. It’s huge. It’s going to save lives,” said Heinen.
Heinen said individuals attempting to escape domestic violence often find it difficult to find a new place to live after facing problems getting out of a former residence.
“Either an eviction judgement on their record as a result of experiencing violence and being seen as a troubled tenant, or their rental history looks spotty because they’re seen as a troubled tenant as a result of experiencing violence, and then it makes it impossible for them to rent in their city or other places in their state,” said Heinen.
Representative Proudie’s legislative assistant, Holly Bickmeyer, told the committee she was 14 when she lost her mother due to domestic violence. She thinks legislation like these bills could have made a difference in her life.
“I feel like if something like this had been in place to where we would have been able to leave, it’s entirely possible that I would still have my mother today,” said Bickmeyer. “Speaking as someone who has lived through that, I can tell you how much of a help something like this would have been.”
The committee held hearings on HBs 243 and 544 on Tuesday morning. There was no opposition voiced. Daryl Dewe, a registered lobbyist for the St. Louis Apartment Association, joined those testifying in support.
“Our landlords, most of all, we want our tenants to be safe and secure,” said Dewe. “If that means, in a situation like this, helping them to a safe space more easily, then it’s the right thing to do.”
The bills would allow landlords to impose a termination fee when a tenant or lessee wants to terminate a lease early.
The committee has not yet voted on HBs 243 and 544.