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Iowa House bill would allow victims of some crimes to end rental agreements early

A spokesperson for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence said access to safe housing is the biggest barrier that keeps victims from leaving unsafe situations.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa lawmakers are set to consider a proposal that would allow victims of certain crimes to break their lease without penalties. 

The bill would give victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking or elder abuse the ability to terminate these agreements. 

Advocates say in those abusive relationships, abusers hold all the power. 

"They have a lot of information about you at their disposal," said Tiffany Allison, the founder of Soaring Hearts Foundation and a domestic violence survivor. "And knowing your physical location is a really big risk to safety."

The legislation requires victims to provide documentation to landlords. Materials like a police report, court order, even corroboration from a licensed therapist.

"It does, in essence, sort of force a victim to receive some kind of services," Allison said. "So, we are always hopeful that they do that. But it is the means to get them out of this lease."

On top of victims fearing a bad mark on their rental history, advocates say many are navigating economic barriers.

"Roughly 99% of victims identify financial abuse as a tactic a person who harmed used to control them and to keep them in an unsafe situation," said Lindsay Pingel, a spokesperson for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Financial abuse could range from the abuser taking the victim's paycheck, to them taking out multiple credit cards in their name.

"On average, it takes a person roughly seven times before they leave for good," Pingel said. "Access to safe, affordable housing is the biggest barrier. And the biggest reason that someone stays in an unsafe situation."

The bill is being managed by Rep. Eddie Andrews, R-Johnston. It cleared committee during funnel week and now awaits debate on the house floor. 

WATCH | Iowa Republicans optimistic, Democrats defeated after packed 'funnel week' 

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