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State Legislature passes bill protecting sexual assault, domestic violence victims

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  January 2, 2013 11:30 AM

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The Massachusetts Legislature last week unanimously passed a bill sponsored by state Senator Cynthia Stone Creem, a Newton Democrat, that would protect victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.

Under the bill, a victim would be able to break a lease without undue financial penalty if his or her safety is in jeopardy or request a change in the locks on the unit.

The protections are already available under federal law to public housing tenants and the new law would extended the provisions to tenants in private housing, which is already the case in several states.

Tenants would be required to give landlords written notification of their situation in advance, within a reasonable period. Landlords could also request independent verification of their status as victims, though this information would have to be kept confidential. The bill also provides protection from discrimination against tenants, and forbids the waiver of these rights in any lease.

“Maintaining and securing safe and affordable housing is often one of the most difficult obstacles facing victims of domestic violence, rape and stalking,” Creem said in a statement. “Many victims find themselves in unlivable situations – either sharing a home with an abuser or living in fear from a stalker – yet hesitate to move, because they can’t afford to break a lease."

Creem said the bill's passing will provide such victims the ability to leave an unsafe environment, or to take necessary steps to secure their safety while remaining in their home.

The bill now is now before Governor Deval Patrick, who is expected to sign it into law.

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