Providing a Way Out for Victims of Sexual Assault

(Feb. 7) – Rep. Dominique Jackson’s bill to help victims of stalking, sexual assault and domestic violence break their leases to protect their safety passed out of the House Judiciary Committee today on a unanimous 11-0 vote.

HB17-1035, also sponsored by Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, adds victims of sexual assault and stalking to the group of victims eligible to break their leases due to safety concerns, and also adds types of acceptable documentation to prove victim status in order to vacate the lease. It also prohibits tenants from being penalized for damage to property or nuisance violations that are due to a situation involving the assault or stalking.

“Survivors should not have to face financial ruin to be able to escape to safety,” said Rep. Jackson. “Victims and advocates have been asking for this bill for years because it’s an important step to providing safety and protection for those who are most at risk.”

Testimony included the accounts of several women who have been attacked and threatened in their own homes. They spoke of the need to break their lease for their physical safety, but the inability to do so and the lack of financial means to overcome that barrier.

One woman told the committee that she and her daughter moved to a new home due to a violent stalker. Just days into a new lease, their stalker had found them; they saw him multiple times lurking near their property. Even so, she couldn’t legally break her new lease and could not afford to take on the financial burden of doing so.

A tearful Michelle Aswad told the committee her story of violent sexual assault by her ex-boyfriend in her own home. Though he knew where she lived and even had access to the apartment, she was not allowed to break her lease.

“I was held prisoner in my home, not only by my attacker, but by my lease and my landlord,” said Aswad. “My life is worth more than someone’s fear of potential loss to their bottom line.”

A survivor who requested to be anonymous stated that when she found out her assault did not provide the grounds necessary to break her lease, she felt trapped. “My assault was not good enough.”

Under current law, if a tenant notifies their landlord in writing that he or she is the victim of domestic violence and provides evidence in the form of a recent police report or protection order, they may terminate the lease and vacate with minimal remaining obligations. HB17-1035 extends this same privilege to victims of unlawful sexual behavior and stalking. The bill also adds additional forms of acceptable documentation to present to the landlord: a statement from either a licensed medical professional or a statement from an application assistant within the Address Confidentiality Program.

The 11-0 vote sends the bill to the full House for consideration.

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