New law allowing domestic abuse victims to terminate a lease agreement takes effect

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A new law that takes effect Nov. 1 allows victims of domestic or sexual violence to terminate a lease with a court protective order.

The law comes as the state has recently seen record highs in domestic abuse cases.

A recent report from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation showed a 20-year high in domestic violence reports during the pandemic.

The bill’s author, Sen. John Michael Montgomery, says that’s partly why the Legislature saw the importance of passing this bill. It passed the House 78-11 and the Senate 40-6.

“When [a person has] sought a court order for protective order here, it’s very clear that somebody’s in a bad situation and we need to get them out of that,” he said. “I think that resonated with people.”

Sen. Montgomery says they received support from a number of interest groups and even heard from landlords for their input.

“They definitely voiced their interests in the legislation, of course, and we were certainly appreciative of their willingness to actually engage with what we were doing here,” he said. “It’s, it can be you know sensitive to them too…it can’t be extremely easy to just try to break a landlord agreement. That was one of their big concerns ultimately, and so we had to kind of strike that balance.”

One group that supported this bill from inception to its signing was the YWCA of Oklahoma City. Senior Director of Specialized Training Brandon Pasley says this law helps address a longstanding issue with victims and survivors of domestic violence.

“What we’ve seen over and over again regarding the experience of domestic violence victims and survivors is an overwhelming need for financial security,” he said. “The alleviations that comes from that responsibility [of staying for the duration of a lease]…can save lives in the long term.”

Pasley says allowing them to get out of a lease agreement early also helps limit situations where they’re held accountable for damages caused by their abuser.

“After whatever violence takes place that damages property along those lines, the person who actually does the damage may often flee the scene,” he said. “The victim may be the person responsible for all of those damages…the victim partner is left holding the bag, so to speak.”

Pasely says even with the increase in cases during the pandemic, they have seen state lawmakers address many of the issues — including this one — this past session.

“I think we saw more positive legislation to support victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and even human sex trafficking, than we’ve seen in many years,” he said.

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