Bill To Allow Arkansas Domestic Abuse Victims To Break Leases Passed Out Of Committee

While plenty of landlords would let their renters out of a lease due to domestic violence, others aren't as understanding. Legislation that cleared a House committee on Wednesday make sure that domestic abuse victims are able to escape their abusers.

"It's the most common question - it's kind of what everyone's thinking in the back of their mind - why would someone stay with someone who does that to them," said Beth Goodrich, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

HB1583 would allow renters that are the victims of domestic violence to terminate a lease agreement within 60 days of a documented incident of domestic abuse, without having to pay an early termination penalty.

According to the legislation, victims would have to provide written notice to their landlord that notes their intention to leave along with evidence of a documented incident of domestic abuse.

The bill's key sponsor - State Representative Nicole Clowney (D-Fayetteville) - told members of the House Insurance and Commerce Committee on Wednesday that renters wouldn't be able to simply be able to get out of their lease based on accusations contained in a police report - rather the documented incident must come from a court order like a restraining order. If that's satisfied - landlords must comply with the renter's request to terminate the lease within 60 days.

Goodrich called the bill a necessity for victims of domestic violence while testifying before the House committee on Wednesday.

"In my history of working with domestic violence for the last 13 years or so, there have been several times that I've encountered victims who needed to get out of a lease or be able to move, and they were not able to do so," said Goodrich.

"It mostly impacts their safety. If they're not able to get out of a lease, their abuser can find them as soon as they get out of jail - they always know where they are. It impacts their ability to make sound financial decisions going forward. As I mentioned in committee - if people don't have the money or resources to leave - they won't leave."

Despite opposition to other renters' rights bills run this legislative session - Rep. Clowney told said that the Arkansas Realtors Association is in support for HB1583. Clowney noted to committee members that renters would still be on the hook for any damages made to the rent home or apartment.

State Representative Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs), a landlord and the House Insurance and Commerce committee's vice-chair, voiced opposition to the bill. Lundstrum abstained from voting on the measure.

"We step in and do anything we can for domestic violence victims - a lot of us do," said Lundstrum in committee discussion. "We don't need a law to tell us this."

Rep. Clowney acknowledged that there are many landlords that would already do what the proposed legislation is requesting they do, but replied to Lundstrum claiming the bill is for the landlords that don't do it.

"That's what we want to see happen obviously," said Clowney. "We also understand that for a lot of landlords it's not that easy."

Clowney said she expects to bring HB1583 for a full vote in the House next Monday.

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