RESOLUTION SUPPORTING HOUSE BILL NO. 1051, PRINTER'S NO. 1369, LEGISLATION AMENDING THE LANDLORD TENANT ACT OF 1951 TO PROTECT THE SAFETY OF TENANTS WHO ARE SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULT OR STALKING

WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association has a long-standing commitment to protecting vulnerable populations, including victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

WHEREAS, the goal of House Bill No. 1051, Printer's No. 1369, is to amend Act of April 6, 1951, (P.L.69, No.20), known as The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 as amended (the "Landlord Tenant Act") to protect survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking by allowing them to request the landlord to change the locks and to terminate their leases early due to their concerns for their safety if they remain in their homes.

WHEREAS, a survivor of domestic violence who is a tenant often faces the difficult choice of either staying in a dangerous living situation or breaking the lease, thereby incurring significant financial hardship. Anne C. Johnson, From House to Home, Creating a Right to Early Lease Termination for Domestic Violence Victims, 90 Min. L. Rev. 1859, 1865 (2006).

WHEREAS, a report entitled "Housing Rights of Domestic Violence Survivors, A State and Local Law Compendium" issued in October 2015 by the National Housing Law Project (http://nhlp.org/files/CombinedD-HousingStateLawCompendium.pdf ) demonstrates that many states and local jurisdictions provide a variety of protections for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in their housing laws, including 26 states that provide survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking with early lease termination rights, and 17 states that require landlords to change the locks at the survivor's request.

WHEREAS, Philadelphia's Fair Housing Ordinance has provided domestic violence and sexual assault survivors with affirmative rights to terminate a lease agreement without penalty since 2012. See: http://www.phila.gov/FairHousingCommission/pdf/FairHousingOrdinance2012.pdf.

WHEREAS, over sixty percent of domestic violence takes place in the home. See: http://www.safehorizon.org/page/domestic-violence-statistics--facts-52.html

WHEREAS, "Domestic Violence Counts 2014: A 24-hour Census of Domestic Violence Shelters and Services," examined a random day, September 10, 2014, and collected information from 60 domestic violence programs in Pennsylvania. Key findings included: http://nnedv.org/downloads/Census/DVCounts2014/PA.pdf.

  • 2,498 domestic violence victims and their children received services; and
  • 744 calls to domestic violence hotlines were answered, an average of 31 hotline calls every hour; and
  • 252 requests from domestic violence victims were turned down because programs did not have the resources to provide them; and
  • The majority of unmet requests (73%) were from victims who had chosen to flee their abusers, and were seeking safe emergency or transitional housing, and the second largest number of unmet needs requests were for legal representation.

WHEREAS, in 2014, 141 Pennsylvanians lost their lives due to domestic violence.

WHEREAS, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, often go unreported for various reasons, such as heightened fear by victims that they will be subjected to further danger if they call the police or file for a protective order.

WHEREAS, there are also practical barriers faced by domestic violence survivors if third-party verification or documentation of abuse is a pre-requisite for relief, ranging from timeliness and cost of obtaining records, to lack of access to records when victims are fleeing or have fled abuse.

WHEREAS, under the federal Violence Against Women Act, as amended, Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, Pub. L. No. 113-4, 127 Stat. 54 (2013) (codified in scattered sections of the U.S. Code) ("VAWA 2013"), if a housing authority or a landlord covered by VAWA 2013, requests proof from a tenant claiming protection as a domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking victim, the tenant must furnish documentation, in the form of a victim statement, protection order, police or court record, statement signed by certain professionals, or HUD-approved self-certification form.

WHEREAS, the Pennsylvania regulation regarding verification for waivers of program requirements based on domestic violence under the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Family Violence Option, which is an optional provision in section 402(a)(7) of the federal Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(7), allows a wide range of third party documentation for verification. The regulations also permit self-verification for the small number of victims who lack other verification because of safety reasons. See Section 108.10 Family Violence Verification Form: http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/055/chapter108/s108.10.html.

WHEREAS, House Bill No. 1051, Printer's No. 1369 would be improved if it would allow for a wide range of third party and official documentation as well as self-certification, for those who are unable to safely obtain other documentation in a timely manner, by adopting a form similar to the Section 108.10 Pennsylvania Family Violence Verification Form as a model form for a tenant to self-certify, under penalty of perjury, that they are or have been a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; and

WHEREAS, the language of House Bill No. 1051, Printer's No. 1369, could be further strengthened by:

  • incorporating existing definitions and terminology set forth in current Pennsylvania law and regulations, for example the Landlord Tenant Act's definition of "dwelling unit" and the Protection From Abuse Act's definition of abuse. See: Landlord Tenant Act and Pennsylvania Protection From Abuse Act, 23 Pa.C.S. § 6102(a);
  • including language that Landlord and Tenant shall be responsible for performance of all of the other terms and conditions of the lease agreement that follow lease termination;
  • including language that the Landlord and Tenant shall comply with 68 P.S. § 250.512 regarding the disposition of any security deposit; and
  • including language that nothing in the bill is intended to preempt any federal, state or local law providing a right to an early lease termination and that to the extent House Bill No. 1051, Printer's No. 1369 and any local ordinance conflict, the General Assembly expressly defers to the local ordinance; and

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Philadelphia Bar Association urges the General Assembly and the Governor to take all appropriate actions required to enact House Bill No. 1051, Printer's No. 1361, or similar legislation with the goals of including the improvements suggested in this Resolution and protecting survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking who fear for their safety in their leased premises.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Chancellor and/or the Chancellor's designee(s) are authorized to communicate the Philadelphia Bar Association's position House Bill No. 1051, Printer's No. 1369, or any similar legislation to the Governor, the General Assembly, the media and the public and to take such other action as necessary to effectuate this Resolution.

PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: December 17, 2015