Housing is about so much more than the walls that make up the house or apartment we call home. Housing is a source of safety, stability and economic opportunity. That's why we need to protect people who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment and other forms of gender-based violence from the added harm of eviction or a penalty for breaking a lease.
While Nebraska has some housing protections for people who have experienced domestic violence, a new bill rightly recognizes that greater protections are needed. LB 320 features several housing-related provisions, including one that ensures that survivors of domestic violence cannot be evicted from their homes because of that violence.
This is an opportunity to take a step forward on racial justice and gender equity. Although people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations can experience domestic violence, it has a disproportionate effect on communities of color and we know that women and girls experience domestic violence and sexual assault at alarmingly high rates. Additionally, LGBTQIA+ people experience domestic violence at similar rates as the general population but face added barriers to support.
In addition to existing protections, LB 320 adds that a landlord cannot evict a tenant or their household member that has experienced domestic violence if the individual receives a certification that the activity was one of domestic violence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This is important because as the law now stands, the tenant is required to call the police or seek a protective order in order to shield themselves from the threat of eviction. However, requiring someone to report their abuser or seek a protection order can escalate the level of violence from their abuser.
It is well known that one of the most dangerous times in a relationship with domestic violence occurs when someone leaves their abuser. LB 320 would help empower those who have experienced domestic violence to make the decisions that best ensure their safety and the safety of their children.
LB 320 also provides a method to get an early release from a rental agreement with proper documentation and with sufficient notice given to the landlord. Allowing a domestic abuse survivor out of their lease breaks down one barrier they may face in leaving an abusive situation.
The timeliness of this bill can't be overstated. Nationally and locally, the frequency and severity of domestic violence has grown considerably during the pandemic. We can't wait any longer to better protect Nebraskans.