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New law allows domestic violence, sex assault victims to vacate leases without penalties

Governor Deval Patrick today signed a bill into law that will allow domestic violence and sexual assault victims to vacate their lease or rental agreements without financial penalties.

The bill, “An Act Relative to Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence, Rape, Sexual Assault, and Stalking,” also allows victims to cite their situation as a defense in eviction proceedings, the governor’s office said.

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“We must do all we can to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence,” Patrick said in a statement. Patrick was joined when he signed the bill by Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray and other supporters of the bill at a State House signing ceremony, the governor’s office said.

Victims of sexual and domestic violence often encounter financial and legal barriers when they need to leave their homes, the governor’s office said. They may also face discrimination from prospective landlords. The legislation was designed to provide the victims with protections while also protecting owners’ property rights.

“This new law will provide important protections to victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and stalking by giving them the ability to choose whether to stay in their residences or move without having to weigh their personal safety against financial considerations,” State Senator Cynthia Creem said in the statement.

The bill also contains a provision for changing the locks when a victim who is a tenant believes there is an imment threat.

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