A measure to provide lease protections for victims of violence moves one step closer to becoming law, following the Public Hearing on Bill No. 214-35 (LS) Tuesday morning.
Introduced by Senator Mary Camacho Torres, the Guam Safe Housing Act would allow victims of family violence, sexual assault, or stalking to terminate their rental agreement early without being penalized.
Under current law, a landlord is entitled to recover actual damages and obtain injunctive relief against a tenant for noncompliance with the rental agreement. The potential for these consequences may financially force victims to stay in an unsafe living environment.
“Far too often, homelessness is the solution for leaving an abusive relationship. Victims often hide in the shadows, afraid to ask for help because of a fear that they may lose their housing. Others are trapped in an abusive relationship, tied to an abuser by a year-long lease,” said Attorney Stephen Hattori, Executive Director of the Public Defender Service Corporation. “This law would permit such a victim to seek early termination of the lease agreement.”
Under Bill 214, a victim-tenant would be released from any rent payment obligation beyond one month’s rent following the submission of a police report, a restraining or protective order, or a written statement from a licensed medical professional as evidence of victimization.
The measure would further prohibit eviction, discrimination, or retaliation of a victim of violence as well as protect landlords who comply with the bill’s provision in good faith.
If a tenant knowingly submits false written notice or accompanying documentation to a landlord as evidence, the landlord may recover an amount equal to three months periodic rent or threefold actual damages, whichever is greater, plus costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. The bill further upholds a landlord’s right to hold a perpetrator liable for any damages.
“No survivor should have to stay in an abusive situation—just because they can’t afford to move out,” said Senator Torres. “More than half of our states recognize the need for early lease termination laws and housing protections. I ask my colleagues to join me in adding Guam to that list.”