Law firm holds webinar on tenants rights for survivors of domestic violence

April 30, 2021 /

The Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance staff held their last virtual webinar Wednesday to inform residents of Tenants’ Rights for Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Renee Williams, Senior Staff Attorney with National Housing Law Project talked about the rights that survivor’s have.

“At the National Housing Law Project, we really like to think about survivors safety as what is considered safe for the survivor because the survivor has a lot of real and there are a lot of dynamics going on in an abusive relationship and so it’s really the survivor who has going to have the best understanding of what is best for them,” said Williams.

A survivor has the right to request a lock change, according to Willaims.

“If the landlord does not change the locks within 24 hours, the tenant may change the locks without the landlord’s permission. Tenants must then notify the landlord within 24 hours of the change, and give the landlord a copy of the key,” said Williams.

“What’s really important under the code section where the survivor and the perpetrator live together, it specifically says in the law that if the landlord follows the law then the landlord can’t be liable for locking out the perpetrator who is a tenant at the unit and the perpetrator who was on the lease remains liable for rent, even if they cannot access the unit so that’s why you have to have the kick out order,” said Williams.

Another request a tenant can ask for is to break the lease early.

“In a typical privately lease unit the survivor can still request to break the lease early, you can put in a request to break the lease early so you can leave early and not be liable for the rest of the rent or additional penalties for breaking the lease early,” said Williams.

“If the tenant is breaking the lease because an immediate family member is a violent crime victim covered by this law, and that tenant did not live in the same household as the immediate family member at the time of the crime, and no part of the act or crime occurred within or near the unit, the tenant must also submit a written statement,” said Williams.

William’s said that a landlord can’t require a tenant to forfeit their security deposit or advance rent because the tenant used this law to terminate their lease early. A tenant is not considered to have breached the lease because of the termination.

Assembly Bill 2413 became effective January 2019 and it protects individuals who need to call for police or emergency assistance from penalties such as eviction, said Williams.

“Tenants and landlord can’t be penalized for calling the police for reason related to emgreicnes or for reasons related to sexual violence. It would include folks who may have a mental health crisis or there is an emergency and the police need to be called. It’s unlawful to evict folks on that basis,” said Williams.

“This provides an eviction defense for tenants, residents, and occupants who face eviction for police/emergency calls and overrides existing local ordinances that penalize tenants and landlords due to police/emergency calls, regardless of when the law was adopted,” said Willaims.

Violence against women act is intened to encourgae survivors who are recieing housng subsidies to report and seek help for the abuse commiteed against them, without being afraid of being evecited said Williams.

“VAWA is sort of the fundamental principle of housing protection. The idea here is that folks who are living or are applying for subsidized housing shouldnt be discriminate against because of acts of domestic violence, sexual violence, dating vilonce, and stalking,” said Williams.

Willaims also talked about the eligibility for VAWA housing protection.

“Really important point is that the survivor gets to choose the form of documentation under VAWA,” said Williams. “A lot of times we would hear the housing provider say well I want to see the police report or I want to see the restraining order and the idea there is some survivors may be fearful of calling the police,of calling the court out of the fear of perhaps escalating violence, so what VAWA says is we are going to make the pretty low barrier and allow survivors to allow self certify by filling out the form and provide enough information to show that voice id occur.”

If survivors need other options they can go to California partnership to end domestic violence and they have a search tool where you can find resources and organizations and search by city and zip code Williams said.

“They’re the best folks who can really help with safety planning, really help you understand the dynamics of abuse, and really connect the survivors with other support they need,” said Willaims.