Kansas bill would help domestic violence victims out of leases without crazy costs

LENEXA, Kan. -- Domestic violence victims in Kansas soon might not have to worry about one of the biggest obstacles to them leaving their abusers: the cost.

Senate Bill 78 passed the House 100-23 and the Senate 36-1 on Friday. Now it just awaits Gov. Laura Kelly's approval.

The bill is intended to make it easier and less costly for domestic violence victims to get out of a lease, something that up until now could cost them thousands.

Lenexa Police Det. Shannon Leeper has investigated thousands of domestic violence cases over the years and tried to assist victims.

"What I find is victims want to be in a safe place. They want to leave, but they are bound by lease agreements," Leeper said.

Those lease agreements can keep them in the absolute most dangerous place.

"I've talked to management. I've sent letters on behalf of victims or made phone calls, but it was always a case-by-case basis in terms of whether management was able to help a victim relocate," Leeper said.

Safehome, a Johnson County shelter for victims of abuse, estimates it spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year trying to help domestic violence victims pay off their leases and find permanent housing.

"We have a family right now, a mother who has several children, and she is working hard and she's trying to start over but she honestly owes $3,000," said Heidi Wooten, Safehome president and CEO.

Plus, there’s often property damage fees from the abuser, who may leave the victim paying the entire bill if he or she is able to get the abuser kicked out. Evictions often are damaging credit hits that can keep the victim from being able to rent somewhere else.

Leeper traveled to Topeka this legislative session to urge lawmakers to give domestic violence victims a way out.

"To let them know, 'Hey, you actually can move from here, get to a safe place long-term and not have those fears that you are going to be re-victimized by the offender and your own rental community,'" Leeper said.

In 2018, 38 people were killed in Kansas as a result of domestic violence, the most on record.

"It's a life-saving bill for Gov. Kelly to sign that is going to save lives," Wooten said.

Senate Bill 78 does allow landlords to impose termination fees for domestic violence victims, but they are capped at one month’s rent.

Landlords who don’t follow the new guidelines could face paying the victims $1,000 in damages.

Safehome has 60 beds for victims trying to start over right now. The agency's 24-hour hotline is 913-262-2868.

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