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New Municipal Ordinances Provide Victims of Domestic & Sexual Violence Housing Protections

The City of Maplewood, a St. Louis municipality, can no longer consider domestic violence reports a nuisance, which at one time could trigger eviction. Previously, the city enforced a rule that more than two calls to police within 180 days for an incident of “peace disturbance or domestic violence” could trigger a revocation of the homeowner’s or renter’s occupancy permit for up to six months and bar them from applying for another occupancy permit from the city during that time.

The ACLU of Missouri sued the City of Maplewood in 2017 over a 2006 ordinance the ACLU said unfairly targeted victims of violence and people with mental illness. The revised ordinance, which could take effect October 10, eliminates language that allows public safety officials to fine or evict people who were victims of crimes. Officials are also barred from counting domestic violence incidents as nuisances.

A new municipal ordinance in Kansas City will allow victims of stalking, domestic and sexual violence to terminate a lease without penalty or retaliation. The measure, sponsored by Councilwoman Jolie Justus and support by several MCADSV member programs in Kansas City, passed unanimously without debate.

Under the ordinance, which took effect August 17, a tenant with a protective order from a court or documentation from a medical provider can, with written notice, exit a lease. Unless there is damage to the property, landlords will be required to return the full security deposit.

The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) includes public housing protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Housing protections originally included in 2005, and expanded in 2013, made public housing protections more consistent. 

The Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in October 2017 the Sexual Harassment Initiative. The initiative specifically seeks to increase the Department’s efforts to protect individuals from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees of rental property owners. This initiative builds on the federal Fair Housing Act, prohibiting discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.

A gap exists, however, from the federal to local level, for survivors who do not live in public housing, and/or are not being harassed by landlords or employees of rental properties. Many victims of stalking, domestic and sexual violence might have to stay in unsafe and traumatizing living arrangements because they cannot break a lease. Additionally, housing protections for victims of stalking, domestic and sexual violence can mean the difference between access to safety or fear of homelessness.

In the 2018 legislative session, MCADSV supported House Bill 2166, which would allow lease termination and other housing rights to victims of domestic and sexual violence. The bill, which did not pass and never had a hearing, would allow victims of stalking, domestic and sexual violence to terminate their leases when documentation of that status is provided to a landlord. The documentation could be a police report, protection order or statement from a service provider. The bill also would provide victims with protections from eviction or lease termination.

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