It is now easier for survivors of domestic violence in Utah to be released from their rental agreements so they can flee abuse and seek safety. YWCA Utah worked in collaboration with several organizations and Rep. Marsha Judkins to improve Utah’s domestic violence lease termination law1 .
HB 314 Remedies for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendments, a consensus bill sponsored by Rep. Marsha Judkins and Sen. Mike McKell, passed unanimously each step of the way and became law as of May 3, 2023. Key improvements include reducing the lease termination fee from 45 days to 30 days worth of rent, adding more protective orders that can be used as proof of domestic violence, and allowing someone to access the statute even if they have certain lease violations, including late rent payments, nuisance, and damage to the unit so long as they are connected to the domestic violence and happened within 30 days prior to giving notice.
Need for Improving the Domestic Violence Lease Termination Statute
Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness2 . Accessing affordable and safe housing is critical to survivors maintaining safety. Additionally, research shows that Utah women of color face disproportionately higher rates of eviction and in some zip codes, over 80% of evictions impact Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC)3.
Over the past decade, domestic violence and housing advocates noticed several barriers to accessing relief offered under the statute because of its strict requirements. Many survivors did not find out about the law until they sought protection at a domestic violence shelter, but by that time it was too late to access the benefits. As a result, survivors were often served eviction notices that they were unaware of and ended up accruing eviction-related debt.
With an eviction on their record and surmounting debt, this left many victims ineligible to find a new place to rent and unable to afford a deposit. A stay at a domestic violence shelter typically lasts from 30 to 90 days, which is a short time to take care of an eviction, debt, and come up with the money needed to find a new place to live.
As a response to these housing barriers, domestic violence service providers and housing advocates sought thousands of dollars in federal funds and private donations, apart from the funding needed to run and staff their organizations, to assist survivors in paying off their eviction related debt so they could access permanent, stable housing. There was a clear and urgent need to amend the statute.
Finding a Solution
For a year and a half, YWCA Utah worked in partnership with Fight Against Domestic violence, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, People’s Legal Aid, Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic, Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, among others, to research domestic violence lease termination laws in other states and strategize solutions for Utah. We also partnered with graduate students at the University of Utah to conduct survey research to better understand people’s knowledge of the law, and its success. We found that many people were unaware of the law and even when they were, termination fee, perfect compliance with Utah’s Fit Premises Statute, and limited documentation options were some of the biggest barriers.
Domestic violence being a leading cause of homelessness for families in her district, and hearing from domestic violence and housing advocates, Rep. Marsha Judkins was moved to sponsor legislation. We engaged additional organizations, including Utah Realtors, National Association of Utah Property Mangers – Utah Chapter, and Utah Rental Housing Association. Together we negotiated a consensus bill that included compromises on both sides.
The bill made important changes to the statute to remove barriers to domestic violence survivors and create clarity for survivors and rental operators.
The termination fee was reduced from 45 days worth of rent to 30 days worth of rent. Previously, Utah was the only state that charged a 45 day termination fee among states with similar laws4. Now, Utah joins two other states that charge a 30 day termination fee. Ideally, a survivor would not have to pay any termination fee to access the statute.
Previously, only a police report or one type of protective order could be used to prove domestic violence. The law now allows additional types of protective orders commonly requested by survivors of domestic violence:
Eligible Civil Protective Orders include:
- Cohabitant Abuse Protective Order
- Stalking Injunction
- Dating Protective Order
- Sexual Violence Protective Order
- Child Protective Order
Eligible Criminal Protective Orders include:
- Pretrial Protective Order
- Sentencing Protective Order
- Continuous Protective Order
- Permanent Stalking Injunction
Requiring only a police report or protective order to prove domestic violence continues to create barriers for many survivors. Many survivors fear calling law enforcement, especially those who are from historically marginalized groups including immigrants, QT/BIPOC, or women of color5.
Previously, survivors who violated any section of Utah’s Fit Premises Act could not access the statute. This included any late rent payments, damage to the unit, or nuisance complaints. Now, a survivor can access the statute even if they have violated these sections of the Act. However, the violation must have taken place within 30 days prior to giving notice and they must submit proof that the violation was connected to domestic violence.
Ideally, noncompliance would not be restricted to 30 days prior to giving notice. This tight timeframe doesn’t consider the cycles of domestic violence or that a survivor might not be ready to leave in a safe way within 30 days after noncompliance.
Previously the statute was silent on when a survivor had to leave the unit after giving notice. Now the statute is clear that the survivor must leave the unit within 15 days of having given notice.
Similar to the noncompliance timeframe, requiring a victim to leave within 15 days of giving notice can lead to significant logistical barriers. A survivor must have a plan in place and a safe place to go in order to leave within 15 days.
YWCA Utah is proud to have collaborated with partners and legislative leaders to remove housing barriers for survivors of domestic violence through making significant changes to the domestic violence lease termination statute. Though we did not get all the changes we would like to see made, this bill was a success and should increase safety and housing stability by making the law accessible to more people.
One Pager for Victim Service Providers: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Aa2T2cQ6vphxK8UvLDAmP4qk4hLseSc2/view
DVLT Resources for Landlords: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_Uae3Bz-LSkz2TDE1oPt3YQCpZ4kJJLU/view
Notice Template from Utah Legal Services: