OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 5246

AN ACT CONCERNING THE PROTECTION OF, AND SERVICES FOR, VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

SUMMARY:

This bill makes it easier for tenants who are victims of family violence to choose whether to stay in their dwellings (by deferring their rent) or leave. It (1) sets up parallel procedures for tenants to follow when they make these decisions, (2) requires landlords to accommodate them, and (3) prohibits landlords from taking adverse actions against the tenants who do so. It applies to tenants who enter into rental agreements after December 31, 2010.

The bill appropriates $ 2. 25 million to the Department of Social Services (DSS) in FY 11 for grants to domestic violence programs to enable their emergency shelters to provide around-the–clock, on-site staffing.

The bill requires the Department of Public Health (DPH) commissioner to develop and issue public service announcements (PSAs) for preventing teen dating violence and family violence. It must use its appropriation for community education and outreach programs to pay for these announcements.

Finally, the bill mandates a timeframe for DSS and DPH to make payments to organizations from a special fund established with a marriage license surcharge and used for shelter services for domestic violence and rape victims.

The bill also makes technical changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2010, except for the marriage license surcharge funds, shelter appropriation, DPH PSAs, and technical, conforming changes, which are effective on July 1, 2010.

ABILITY TO TERMINATE RENTAL AGREEMENTS

For rental agreements entered into after December 31, 2010, the bill allows a tenant who is a victim of family violence to terminate the rental agreement for the dwelling unit that he or she occupies at the time he or she is being victimized. The tenant must provide the landlord at least five calendar days' written notice.

The notice must include:

1. a statement that he or she is a victim of family violence;

2. a statement that he or she intends to terminate the rental agreement; and

3. a copy of a police or court record related to the violence or a signed written statement that the tenant or tenant's parent or child is a victim of family violence.

The written statement in (3) above must be from a victim services organization employee or agent, attorney or other advocate, or a medical professional from whom the tenant or tenant's parent or child sought assistance.

The law defines family violence as an incident resulting in physical harm, bodily injury, or assault, or an act of threatened violence that constitutes fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault between family or household members.

Limited Liability for Rent

Under the bill, if the tenant terminates the agreement, he or she cannot be liable for more than the lesser of a half month's rent or a half-month's security deposit due to early termination of the rental agreement. But the tenant is free from this liability only if he or she has paid rent in accordance with the rental agreement during the 12-month period before the landlord receives the termination notice, or, if the tenant has rented the unit for less than 12 months, during the time since the rental agreement term began. If a tenant has paid rent late but within the statutory “grace period” (generally nine days from the due date), it is considered paid for purposes of the bill.

The tenant's termination of the rental agreement does not relieve him or her from liability to the landlord for any (1) rent arrearage incurred before he or she terminated the rental agreement or (2) property damage that he or she causes.

WHEN VICTIM DECIDES NOT TO TERMINATE THE RENTAL AGREEMENT

Rent Deferrals

For rental agreements entered into after December 31, 2010, the bill permits a victim tenant who chooses not to terminate the rental agreement to notify the landlord that he or she would like to defer, on a one-time basis, paying the next month's rent, up to the full amount due. It requires the landlord to defer the payment and give the tenant up to six months to pay the deferred amount. The landlord may not terminate the rental agreement when the tenant has invoked his or her right to defer payment.

The tenant must provide written notice to the landlord at least five calendar days before the deferred rent due date. The notice must include:

1. a statement that the tenant is victim of family violence;

2. a statement that the tenant wants to defer the rent payment and agrees to pay the entire amount deferred within six months from the notice date;

3. a statement that the tenant does not intend to terminate the rental agreement; and

4. a copy of a police or court record or a signed statement identical to that allowed for rental terminations described above.

The landlord must allow the deferral provided the tenant is current on his or her rent, as described above in cases where the tenant chooses to terminate the rental agreement. If the tenant is renting on a monthly basis, the landlord must automatically renew the tenant's lease for the next month after he or she receives the notice.

ABILITY OF LANDLORD TO BRING ADVERSE ACTIONS

The bill prohibits the landlord from taking any adverse action against the tenant, including those allowed for breaches of landlord-tenant law, for the tenant's failure to pay the deferred amount. (Presumably, the landlord could take action if the deferred amount was not paid within six months, or if the requirements above were not met (e. g. , notice to landlord. ))

By law, landlords can terminate rental agreements when tenants fail to pay their rent within the grace period. The bill prohibits landlords from terminating rental agreements on this basis because a tenant (1) is a victim of family violence and (2) has invoked his or her right to defer the payment under the bill.

But the tenant's exercise of his or her right to defer the payment does not preclude the landlord from beginning a summary process (eviction) action for a reason other than the bill's rental agreement termination or rent deferral provisions, including (1) nonpayment of rent for a month before the month which the tenant wants to defer; (2) when the tenant is using the unit for illegal activities; or (3) one of the reasons for which the law allows landlords to require tenants to move, such as the landlord wishing to occupy the unit.

The bill explicitly prohibits a landlord from maintaining an action or proceeding against a tenant to (1) recover possession of the dwelling unit, (2) demand a rent increase, or (3) decrease services to which the tenant has been entitled because the tenant has invoked his or her right under the bill to terminate the rental agreement or defer the rent payment.

MARRIAGE LICENSE SURCHARGE

The bill requires the DSS and DPH commissioners to distribute the funds from the nonlapsing account holding the $ 20 marriage license surcharge to the recipient organizations by October 15 of each year. By law, the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) allocates these funds, in consultation with DSS (which uses them for shelter services for victims of household abuse) and DPH (which uses them for rape crisis services).

The bill prohibits OPM and the DSS and DPH commissioners from retaining any of the funds for administrative purposes.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Human Services Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

15

Nay

4

(03/18/2010)