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Housing Protections Proposed for Kentucky's Domestic Violence Survivors

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A bill introduced in the state Legislature would give survivors of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault the ability to get out of a home or apartment lease.

Filed by state Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, House Bill 405 says that in order to break a lease, the person has to be under a court's protective order. Jenkins called it "another tool in the toolbox of keeping women safe."

"So many of the times in a domestic violence situation, finances would leave them no option but to stay in a place that's dangerous for them because they simply could not afford to leave," she said. "It gives them the opportunity and the time to leave and go to a safe place, whether it's in shelter or someplace else."

The bill requires survivors to give their landlord 30 days' notice. Currently, 20 of the 29 states that provide housing protections to domestic-violence victims allow early termination of rental agreements. Federal law already provides similar protection to those who live in public housing or Section 8 housing.

Without housing protections, said Meg Savage, general counsel for the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, victims often end up with bad credit after breaking their lease.

"We encourage victims to do 'the right thing' and get out of an abusive relationship," she said. "But oftentimes, we don't give them the tools to really be able to do that effectively, efficiently and safely, and for the long term."

The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee. Its sponsor says the requirement of a court's order of protection was added to ensure that people don't break leases randomly.

Savage said survivors often fear telling their landlord that they are in a domestic violence situation.

"Because specifically, they're afraid that this is going to be seen as ... some sort of nuisance or some sort of a safety issue," she said, "and the landlord is just going to want to give them the boot."

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