Our lobbying efforts have paid off! In a major victory for SPOA, the Massachusetts Legislature passed unanimously a revised domestic violence bill that conforms to SPOA’s suggestions. As passed, the new law eliminates the provisions that would have made it nearly impossible to evict victim-of-domestic-violence households.
The revised bill allows tenants to break their leases or tenancy agreements and move out, and it allows them to request a change of locks. SPOA said it would agree to these provisions since it is very hard to stop a tenant from moving out under any circumstances and get them to pay off the rest of a lease, and since changing locks is a minor expense.
The revised bill, however, deletes all references to preventing eviction of a victim household “for any reason related to domestic violence.” SPOA and its members objected strenuously to these provisions since victim households could cause recurring loud noise from fights and recurring property damage. In the worst-case scenario, the victim household could be unevictable and disturbing to neighboring tenants, causing quiet tenants to move out while the landlord stands helpless.
Bills giving blanket immunity to victim households have been under consideration by the State Legislature in every session since 2006.
We can safely say that state legislators heard our complaints about the original bill and deemed them to be reasonable. Here’s what we did over the years since 2006:
- In major newsletter articles, SPOA repeatedly discussed the problems with the original bill and our objections to giving victim households blanket immunity from eviction. The SPOA newsletter is distributed free every month to all 200 state legislators.
- SPOA leaders and members testified against the original bills at the public committee hearings that have been held since 2006.
- Over the years, SPOA president Lenore Monello Schloming wrote at least a dozen different letters to all the legislators, which were distributed by hand to their offices.
- Over the years, based on our action alerts in the newsletter and by email, SPOA members called, emailed or wrote personal letters to their own state legislators, to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President, and to the members of the committees considering domestic violence bills.
- SPOA leaders wrote several letters to the editor of the Boston Herald, most recently this past May and June. These letters, in turn, undoubtedly stimulated some Boston-area residents to complain to their legislators.
Above all, our success required perseverence and not giving up. Credit must be given to all the SPOA members who took specific action, namely, making personal contact with legislators.
Specifically, the new law allows a tenant or co-tenant who is a victim to break their lease or tenancy agreement and move out within three months, with only an obligation to pay the rent for 30 days or one full rental period (whichever is more) after the tenant has moved out. The tenant must give written notice to the landlord and provide evidence, on request, of domestic violence against him or her within the prior three months.
Only the victim is allowed to move. Any other tenant or co-tenant in the same unit is not released from their rental obligations. The departing tenant is allowed a refund of any prepaid rent such as a last month’s rent, and is also entitled to return of the security deposit, less reasonable deductions, within 30 days after all occupants of the unit move out. Presumably, the last month’s rent and security deposit are prorated between the victim and any other tenants.
Landlords are required to change the locks to an apartment within two business days after a request from a victim or any member of the household if the person is in imminent threat of domestic violence. The owner can request proof of the imminent threat. If the landlord does not change the locks, the tenant is authorized to change them. If the landlord changes the locks, a reasonable fee may be charged to the tenant.
Landlords who receive documentation of domestic violence must keep all such information strictly confidential unless the victim gives written authorization otherwise. A landlord may, however, pass along his experiences with a victim household when a new landlord is considering the tenant. But landlords cannot discriminate against a tenant who exercised his or her rights under the new law to break a lease or tenancy agreement or the right to request a change of locks.