Under the new Massachusetts Domestic Violence Act recently signed into law, victims of sexual assault and stalking have the right to break their leases without significant financial penalty, have the landlord change their locks, and other important protections. The important provisions of the new law are as follows:
- In order to break a lease, victims are required to provide notice to landlords that they were subject to a sexual assault or rape or under imminent threat of same within three (3) months of the incident
- Landlords may request supporting documentation such as a police report or restraining order (which they must keep confidential).
- Provided the tenant victim provides the proper notice, she will be relieve of financial liability for 30 days or one full rental period of rent, plus a return of any last month’s rent and security deposit.
- The new law applies to anyone in the renter’s household.
- Victims of sexual assault or stalking may require that the landlord change the unit’s locks within 48 hours at the tenant’s expense. If the landlord fails to act, the tenant may change the locks herself.
- If the perpetrator of the sex crime or threat is a household member (i.e., spouse/boyfriend), the landlord may authorize the lock-out the perpetrator by changing the locks and withholding the new key.
- Landlord’s who comply with the new law are generally absolved from liability to the perpetrator.
- Noncompliance with the new law can result in damages equal to 3x the rental amount, plus payment of the tenant’s legal fees, which may be set off against any unpaid rent.
The bill, as finally passed, was signed off by both tenant and landlord industry groups, after several years of debate. A link to the new Massachusetts domestic violence law can be found here.