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KC to consider law allowing victims of abuse to break leases without financial penalties

Posted at 5:51 AM, Jul 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-25 08:02:13-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking may soon have a new tool to escape. Wednesday morning, the Kansas City City Council will get its first look at a proposal allowing victims to get out of their leases without a financial penalty. 

Advocates say oftentimes abusers know where their victims live, but for a victim to break their lease and move away immediately, they almost always have to pay expensive termination fees. This law would make it illegal for landlords to charge those fees in qualifying cases.

“Every year we see people who are trying to flee violent situations in our city. If we can come up with a tool that makes it better for one person, it's great. I suspect it will be more than one person,” said Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who will present the ordinance to the Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee. 

As it is written, the victim would have to provide a landlord with a court-ordered restraining order, or order of protection as proof. 

Kate Heinen works at the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA). The organization will testify in support of the proposed ordinance during a hearing at city hall Wednesday, but Heinen said she believes requiring a restraining order may be too much. She said in some cases, her clients can’t file for an order of protection. She suggested the city allow a police report, or note from a health care provider to qualify as proof. 

Heinen also explained how big an obstacle breaking a lease can become for a victim. She said she knows of cases in which her clients can’t afford the termination fee. They are sometimes evicted, which reflects poorly on their rental history, and makes it difficult to qualify for a new lease.

Heinen admitted it’s hard to quantify to how many people this ordinance would apply. She said organizations like hers look at shelter capacity to determine how many people might benefit from rules like this. She said this summer all 10 of the city’s shelters have been at capacity. 

Justus works at a law firm outside her duties at city hall. She said she’s seen the need for a law like this personally.

“Over the last 20 years, I can't even tell you the number of times we've had clients in a lease situation and came forward with a protective order and said my landlord won't terminate the lease without me having to pay severe penalties, but my abuser knows where I live,” Justus said. 

The ordinance is based off an idea a Missouri state senator introduced earlier this year but failed in the legislature. Justus said she wants Kansas City to set the example. 

Depending on what happens during Wednesday’s hearing, the proposal could advance to the full city council for final adoption as early as next week. She said about 18 states have similar policies. 

Justus said the rules would not be retroactive. The law would only apply to leases signed after the city adopts the ordinance.