Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill into law Thursday that will help victims of domestic violence escape dangerous homes and apartments without facing financial penalties.
Advocates against domestic violence say this legislation is years in the making.
"It's one more tool that survivors have," said Executive Director of Safe Passage in Northampton Marianne Winters.
She has worked with survivors of domestic violence for nearly 30 years.
For her, the passing of the housing rights bill for victims is a relief.
"Something as simple as being able to on an emergency basis to get out of a lease because you're a victim of domestic violence and need to escape is so important for survivors," she said.
Winters says too often, survivors of abuse feel trapped inside a home or apartment with their abuser, fearing financial hardship or even homelessness.
"We often get calls from people who know that things are dangerous for them but they feel like they can't, partly because of the legal obligations they have to an apartment," Winters said.
The bill was signed into law Thursday. It protects survivors from eviction, allows them to vacate a lease or rental without financial penalty and allows for survivors to have their locks changed.
In a statement, Patrick said:
"We must do all we can to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence. I thank the Legislature and the many caring advocates for giving us additional tools to do so."
Winters says even if the bill saves one life, it will be worth it.
"It definitely has that potential because if someone realizes that they can't leave, who knows what might happen between now and the next time they're able to leave," she said.
The tenants would have to give their landlords written notification of their situation.
Landlords also could request independent verification of their status as victims but that information would have to be kept confidential.
For more information or help with a domestic violence situation, visit safepass.org.
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