ST. PAUL, MN – Today, Governor Mark Dayton held a ceremonial bill signing for legislation authored by State Representative Steve Simon (DFL – Hopkins) and Senator Jeff Hayden (DFL – Minneapolis) to expand safe, secure and affordable housing for vulnerable Minnesotans, communities of color and American Indians.
House File 859/Senate File 771 creates an affordable housing pilot program for communities of color and American Indians and improves existing laws on evictions, lease terminations and damage deposits for victims of domestic assault, sexual assault and stalking. State lawmakers in both the House and Senate approved the bill with unanimous support, which goes into effect on August 1, 2014.
“Victims of domestic violence should be able to escape their abusers, so it’s critical that this new law will enable them to get out of their residential leases more easily,” said Simon.
“I applaud the coalition that came together to ensure domestic violence victims are able to escape dangerous situations quickly,” added Hayden. “I’m also proud of the Legislature and the Governor for taking steps to create equity in housing opportunities for people of color in Minnesota.”
Previous law gave a tenant who is a victim of domestic assault the right to break their residential lease if the tenant:
1) asserts s/he is in imminent fear of domestic violence;
2) has a court order; and
3) pays the equivalent of one month’s rent as liquidated damages
Until all three conditions were met, victims of domestic assault could find themselves in an unfair and dangerous dilemma. For example, if they flee for their safety, they risk breach of their lease. If they honor their lease, they stay in a potentially violent situation.
Simon and Hayden’s bill improves the existing law by:
· Creating a covenant between landlords and tenants that domestic and sexual violence are not allowed on the premises and expediting the eviction of a perpetrator.
· Expanding the law to protect victims of domestic assault, sexual assault and stalking (instead of only victims of domestic assault).
· Allowing law enforcement, health care professionals, domestic violence advocates or sexual assault counselors to produce a “qualifying document” that would allow a victim to legally break a lease (instead of only a court order).
· Eliminating a financial burden on Minnesotans who need to escape a violent situation by requiring victims to only forfeit their security deposit if they break their lease (instead of forfeiting both an entire month’s rent and their security deposit)
The bill also creates a pilot project called Housing Opportunities Made Equitable (HOME) through the housing finance agency, with implementation input from the four councils of color, to close disparities in affordable homeownership for communities of color and American Indians. The housing finance agency is to provide financial support to community nonprofits to either provide homeownership education and counseling or to offer mortgage financing for first-time home buyers.