New law allows abuse survivors to end leases, flee unsafe situations

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 05-14-2024 4:47 PM

Survivors of domestic violence are now empowered to terminate a lease early, helping them to escape unsafe living situations, under a law signed by the governor Tuesday.

“The number one reason survivors are unable or unwilling to leave an unsafe situation is because they feel trapped by financial situations,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “There are times when survivors need to break a lease on an emergency basis. When that becomes part of their credit history, they’re less likely to be selected” for new rentals in a tight housing market.

The passage of HB 261 also could help prevent homelessness: between 22% and 57% of women experiencing homelessness report that domestic violence was what caused them to lose housing, and 38% of all survivors of domestic violence become homeless at some point, according to National Network to End Domestic Violence statistics cited by the Coalition.

“On behalf of our clients who are seeking to escape abusive relationships, we appreciate the protection this provides. The last thing survivors need to be worrying about is their housing,” Dawn McKinney, policy director at New Hampshire Legal Assistance, said in a statement.

The law was modeled after protections created for survivors in public housing in the Violence Against Women Act, extending them into private housing.

Aiming to also limit impacts on landlords, HB 261 lays out the documentation, such as police reports or verification from an advocate, attorney or healthcare provider that someone is a survivor of abuse, that must be provided for someone to end a lease early for safety reasons and sets a 30-day timeline for when that tenant must leave the home. Tenant protections, preventing a landlord from evicting someone because of their being a survivor of abuse or stalking, are added as well. Grady Sexton added that, beyond the financial power and legal freedoms this law sets up, it also will help make survivors comfortable talking openly with their landlord about what they’re enduring.

“New Hampshire is stepping up to protect survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking by ensuring they have the ability to live in a safe environment without jumping through legal hurdles to do so,” Governor Chris Sununu said in a statement.

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