By Kat Grau
On May 7th, Governor Abbott signed SB 234 into law after the bill was passed by the state legislature with bipartisan support. This bill, which will take effect September 1, 2019, expands the rights of survivors of family violence to terminate their residential leases. Currently, Texas law allows family violence survivors to terminate their lease without penalty only if the survivor can provide documentation of a protective order or similar court documents. Protective orders are not always obtainable to survivors of family violence. When survivors cannot terminate their lease early, they are forced to choose between their safety and financial security. Once SB 234 takes effect this September, the type of documentation a survivor can use to terminate their lease will be greatly expanded. This will eliminate a significant barrier to safety for many survivors.
Why Expand Protections?
Family violence survivors are often asked, “Why don’t you just leave?” Unfortunately, leaving can be the most dangerous time for a survivor of family violence. For many survivors, incidents of violence escalate when they take steps to regain control over their lives.
In Texas, survivors have faced further difficulties leaving. Without proper documentation, a survivor cannot be removed from their lease without permission of their landlord and all co-tenants. In most circumstances, this gives the abuser the power to decide whether or not the survivor can leave. If the survivor stays, their safety and life may be at risk. If the survivor leaves, they could face long-term financial consequences. By passing SB 234, Texas has helped give survivors the choice to leave their abuser.
What is Family Violence?
Family violence, often referred to as domestic violence or intimate partner violence, is defined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline as “a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” Tactics used by an abusive partner to maintain control may include isolation, emotional abuse, intimidation, coercion, threats, and economic abuse.
In Texas, family violence is defined under Section 71.004 of the Texas Family Code as the act or threat of physical assault, bodily injury, or sexual assault by a past or current intimate partner, a family member, or a household member.
What Will SB 234 change?
Currently, Section 92.016 of the Texas Property Code allows survivors to terminate their lease with documentation from a temporary ex parte order, a temporary injunction, or a final protective order. These legal documents can only be obtained through civil court by pursuing a protective order or a divorce.
Starting this September, family violence survivors will have more options for terminating their lease early. This bill amends Section 92.016 of the Texas Property Code to allow survivors to terminate their lease using emergency protective orders, documentation from a licensed healthcare or mental healthcare provider, or documentation from certain victim service advocates. For many survivors, it is easier to get documentation of family violence from their doctor, therapist, or caseworker than through a court process.
*Please note that victims living in subsidized housing may have additional rights.
Survivors who wish to terminate their lease can call our telephone counseling line (512-474-1961) to discuss their rights under the Texas Property Code. We also encourage survivors to reach out to SAFE Alliance (512-267-7233) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233).