July 6, 2018

New law stands to make positive change for area domestic violence survivors

July 1 marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Georgia law books. But while most of the public focus centered around the enforcement of distracted driving restrictions, there is another statute that will provide a positive change for a set of residents in need.

House Bill 834 passed the Georgia General Assembly unanimously (166-0) in March, and its parameters, which also went into effect July 1, could provide significant financial relief for victims of domestic abuse.

Bill 834 allows survivors of abuse to break their home rental leases without incurring the financial penalties that normally entails.

“This is a significant change for many women across the state and right here in northeast Georgia,” said Cindy Bryant, the Transitional Housing Advocate for Hall County’s Gateway Domestic Violence Center, which shelters women seeking a safer situation for themselves and their families.

“When landlords don’t let victims of domestic violence out of lease agreements, it forces them to remain in unsafe situations,” Bryant continued. “Many times, victims of domestic violence end up with evictions reported on their credit history because they have left an abusive partner to seek safety with their children.”

Until now, it was a reality that forced some women to remain locked in dangerous situations.

“One of the biggest barriers to safety for many women is to protect their credit. I had one client that ended up $3,000 in debt because of that very issue,” Bryant said. “When you know that’s going to happen because your name is on the lease and you’re living with an abusive partner, that can be a big deterrent to seeking a change. There are often financial consequences for survivors of abuse, and that’s not something people often realize.”

Thanks to advocates for women such as State Representative Mandi Ballinger (District 23), who introduced Bill 834, that is no longer a restraint for change. And Gainesville resident and District 11 State Representative Matt Dubnik said it was a necessary issue that he is glad was addressed.

“This was an absolute no-brainer, and I am so proud that the Assembly passed Bill 834 unanimously,” Dubnik said. “I wish we had more positive changes like this we could talk about every day. As legislators and as good citizens we need to do all we can to help victims of domestic abuse, and help them to help themselves.”

Prior to the change, shelters such as Gateway worked hard to cultivate relationships with local landlords in order to ease the burden of victims.

“We have had several that have worked with us to let women break their leases, and we certainly appreciate the willingness of those landlords that have done so,” Bryant said. “That was a big deal for a lot of women.”

But even the organized and concerted efforts of people like Bryant did not always provide relief. That will no longer be an issue, however.

“Now we have something concrete we can depend on,” Bryant said.

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