Bill provides lease protections for victims of violence

Senator Mary Camacho Torres (Guam Legislature photo)

Senator Mary Camacho Torres has introduced Bill No. 214-35 (LS), which seeks to establish legal protections for tenants who are victims of family violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Named the “Guam Safe Housing Act of 2019,” the bill was introduced in response to the high rate of family violence and sexual assault on Guam, the senator stated.

She cited data from the Superior Court of Guam indicating that family violence was the second-highest offense charged overall last year while nearly 400 domestic violence cases were filed by the Attorney General in Fiscal Year 2018 alone.

According to the senator, Guam also has the second-highest number of sexual assaults per capita in the nation and according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, more than half of all survivors are stalked by former intimate partners.

If enacted, Bill No. 214 would allow victims of these crimes to terminate their rental agreement early without being penalized. Under current law, a landlord is entitled to recover actual damages and obtain injunctive relief against a tenant for noncompliance with the rental agreement. The potential for these consequences may financially force victims to stay in an abusive relationship or an unsafe living environment.

To address this concern, Torres’ bill would release the tenant from any rent payment obligation beyond one month’s rent. The bill would require tenants to provide a police report, a restraining or protective order, or a written statement from a licensed medical professional as evidence of victimization.

Bill No. 214 would further prohibit the eviction of a victim if an incident of family violence, sexual assault, or stalking occurred at the premises, as well as the discrimination or retaliation against a tenant solely because he or she is a victim of violence. Moreover, under the measure, landlords may not disclose any information provided by the tenant without the victim’s written consent or unless required by law or order of the court.

Protection for Landlords

If a tenant knowingly submits a false written notice or accompanying documentation to a landlord as evidence, the landlord may recover an amount equal to three months periodic rent or threefold actual damages, whichever is greater, plus costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. Torres’ measure further upholds a landlord’s right to hold a perpetrator liable for any damages, as well as protect a landlord or tenant who complies with the bill’s provision in good faith.

“Most landlords I know would do what they can to help survivors on Guam, but with our troubling rate of domestic violence, we can’t take any chances for those that don’t. That’s why Bill No. 214-35 provides clear legal protections for victim tenants,” said Senator Mary Torres in a release pertaining to her bill. “More than half of our states recognize the need for early lease termination laws and housing protections. I ask my colleagues to join me in adding Guam to that list.”