Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wisconsin amends housing rights to include dv victims

Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin has officially signed The Safe Housing Act into law! This new law allows victims of domestic violence to break rental agreements without penalty if they provide their landlord with documentation such as a criminal complaint or a restraining order. The law also makes leases void if landlords punish tenants for calling police or emergency services and prohibits municipalities from enforcing ordinances that charge fees to property owners when tenants call police for help in domestic violence situations.

While supporters have praised this latest effort to reduce the number of barriers to leaving violent living situations, Kathy Kintopf, account executive with Start Renting and board member of the Fox Valley Apartment Association, opposes the legislation and believes that it would place an undue burden on landlords. She issued this charming statement:

“I don’t know if it really protects anyone else in the building if that victim moves out,” Kintopf said. “Where does it stop? Would the bank let me out of my mortgage? Landlords are in favor of helping people, but I’m not convinced this is the best way.”
There are many things wrong with this sentiment. First, the primary victim is often the only one who is in need of protection. The rest of the tenants are only in tangential danger. For example, if the abuser decides to set the apartment on fire, or ends up in a hostage taking situation or shootout with the police, then the other residents of the building are put in harm's way. But that sort of problem is solved if the victim is allowed to leave.

Second, the legislation isn't meant to protect the other residents of the building. It is meant to protect tenants who feel so threatened by the person they are living with that they find it necessary to call the police or file a restraining order for safety. They could choose to have the other party exited from the apartment, but that other person will still know where she lives. Thus, many women must leave the physical premises as a condition of leaving the relationship, and a broken lease leading to back rent and bad credit make it a lot harder to build a new life of safety.

Finally, where does it stop? One would think that the possibility of a murder in her complex, which would, in turn, decrease the appeal of living in that building, would be enough to stop Ms. Kintopf from preventing a woman in danger from leaving a violent relationship. But our society is willing to put stumbling block after stumbling block in the path of women trying to flee from abuse. The burden still rests on the victim to seek legal recourse, testify against a partner whom she loves, support the children they may have together, and find a new job and apartment where her partner cannot stalk her. And, last we checked, she was the victim of crime and the perpetrator of violence is the one who should be punished.

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