TOPEKA — When Deepal Patel was violently attacked by her husband, she was afraid, in danger and unsheltered, she said. She couldn’t return home to where the attack happened, and she had limited time and money to find a new and safer place. Patel reached out to her landlord for help, who gave her choices that weren’t “real options.”
She could either stay at the home where she was attacked, pay a $300 transfer fee for a new apartment in the same complex where she’d be responsible for the old and new lease, or buyout the lease.
“None of the options were safe nor were they affordable,” Patel said. “Worst of all, they gave my abuser power and control to continue victimizing me when I was fighting to get away.”
On Wednesday, March 6, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard a bill that would enact housing protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking.
According to Senior Assistant Revisor of Statutes Jason Thompson, Senate Bill 150 would be a new section of law and consist of the following:
- Landlords cannot deny tenancy to someone because they are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking.
- Landlords cannot evict tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking.
- Tenants are not liable for rent after they vacate the premises for the reasons listed.
- Tenants must provide a statement, court record or document to indicate that they qualify for protections.
- Any false information given could result in a denial of tenancy, eviction or violation.
- Landlords can impose a reasonable termination fee on tenants, but only if the fee is within the terms of the lease agreement.
- Definitions of “domestic violence,” “human trafficking,” “sexual assault,” and “stalking” are the same as in K.S.A 75-452, also known as the “Safe at Home” law where victims can obtain a substitute mailing address so they cannot be tracked.
Sen. Dinah Sykes (D-Johnson), the main sponsor of SB 150, said safe housing is crucial when victims are trying to leave a dangerous situation. She said there are existing housing protections for those who have been discriminated against for reasons such as race, sex or religion — and that it’s time to extend those protections.
Although there are many resources, they are not always permanent or available. Sykes said emergency shelters are often full and landlords can refuse housing because of a victim’s dangerous situation.
“Safe housing is an important step toward leaving an unsafe situation,” Sykes said. “The least we can do is make sure these victims are not discriminated against in housing when they do try and escape danger.”
Shannon Leeper, a detective for the Lenexa Police Department, worked with Deepal Patel on her case and also spoke in favor of the bill during the committee meeting.
“Not allowing a victim to break a rental lease without substantial cost re-victimizes them and substantially increases their chances of being seriously harmed,” she said.
According to Julie Donelon, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault in Kansas City, Missouri, about 55 percent of sexual assault attacks happen at or near the victim’s home, yet there are still no housing protections.
Donelon said victims face many consequences for breaking their leases and are often left with little to no choice. They may have to stay in their room or break their lease and damage their credit report and rental history, she said.
“This bill offers reliefs — emotionally, socially, and economically — to victims,” Donelon said.
Michelle McCormick, program director for the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment in Topeka, shared the story of an unnamed survivor who was abused twice at the same apartment complex even though she requested an emergency transfer to other housing. While the victim was hospitalized for a substantial time, McCormick said, she received a notice for eviction and “no grace or understanding from the apartment complex.”
“The chief strategy that [abusers] are using is to limit the options of their victims and survivors from getting to safety,” McCormick said. “This bill is an opportunity...to help create more options for safety.”
In addition to these testimonies, there were many others that echoed similar thoughts in support of the bill. Proponent testimonies came from organizations including the Westwood Police Department, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas Interfaith Action, United Community Services of Johnson County, Wichita Family Crisis Center, Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, Keep Girls Safe Foundation and The Associated Landlords of Kansas.
“My apartment community and my landlord betrayed me, and I was denied my safety,” Patel said. “Passing this bill could save lives, provide safety and shelter to women who are brave enough to leave.” Since then, Patel has obtained an order of protection from the District Court and has worked with the Lenexa Police Department to find safety from her abuser.
There were no opponents to the bill.
SB 150’s fiscal note reported that landlords would not be able to evict or refuse leasing to individuals that have been or are in imminent danger of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking. Tenants would also not be liable for rent if they vacate the property for those reasons.
Although the bill would provide additional housing protections, the Office of Judicial Administration claimed that the bill would have a minor fiscal effect on the Judicial Branch’s operations.
On March 14, the Senate took final action on the bill and passed it as amended. It was received and introduced by the House the following day. The House Judiciary Committee met for the bill hearing on March 19. No action was taken and nothing is scheduled for SB 150 as of March 20.
Angel Tran is a University of Kansas senior from Wichita majoring in journalism.