Victims of stalking in Colorado will very likely soon be able to legally break their rental agreements — a proactive change in state law supported by sexual assault and victims’ rights groups and proposed in a bipartisan bill that is speeding its way through the Legislature.
The state Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to advance House Bill 1035 to the Senate floor. The bill has already passed the House, where it was sponsored by Dominique jackson, an Aurora Democrat. Senate sponsor John Cooke, a Greeley Republican and former Weld County sheriff, said he expected the bill to land on the governor’s desk perhaps as soon as next week.
Six witnesses on Wednesday testified in support of the bill. One of them recounted her experience as a victim who was stalked and then assaulted after she tried and failed to move away from her apartment. She had asked the landlord before the attack if she could move at least to another apartment in the same building where she was living. The request was denied.
Victims of domestic abuse already have the option to break leases. Supporters of the bill said adding victims of stalking to the law was an obvious way to additionally address criminal abuse.
“With my background in law enforcement, I’ve seen what the stalking does and the sexual abuse and the domestic violence does… It just goes on and on and on. So when the victims groups approached me, I was really on board because I’ve seen the devastation these things cause.”
Cooke talked about a case that has stayed with him in the years since he retired as sheriff, a Weld County triple murder. The murderer had served time for domestic abuse. He tracked down the woman he was convicted of abusing.
“The gal moved in with some relatives,” said Cooke. “Once he got out of jail, he found out where she was living… He stalked her and broke into the house and killed her and two of her relatives.
“A lot of times people think, ‘Oh I have this restraining order and that’s going to protect me.’ Well that’s just a piece of paper. It doesn’t protect you from bullets or knives or being beat up. And same thing with a 9-1-1 call, it doesn’t mean the police can be there right then and there.”
No one appeared at the Senate hearing to testify against the proposal. The Apartment Association, which represents landlords, didn’t oppose the bill.
Citing data from the state judicial department, Cooke said there were 300 cases of reported stalking over the last three years in Colorado.
In order to break their rental agreements, victims of stalking would have to provide to their landlord a police report, a restraining order, or medical documents detailing abuse.
Stalking victims could also make use of the state’s Address Confidentiality Program, established in 2008, which legally hides victims’ addresses by assigning them a substitute address to use on official and often publicly available documents. In 2015, the program served more than 2,500 participants. Stalking victims could also present to their landlords documentation from the address program to break their lease.
“I understand victims not wanting to go through the system,” said Cooke. “But there does need to be proof that they’re being victimized. Otherwise, I think that could lend towards abuse [of the rental industry]. I understand, but I think sometimes you have to take responsibility and do what you have to do to get out of the situation.
The bill prohibits landlords from releasing victims’ new addresses without consent.