HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) – Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. On Nov. 14, state representatives introduced a new bill to provide victims of violence with established housing protection.

“Victims of domestic violence often risk their housing by contacting law enforcement and/or leaving their abuser. They often experience homelessness and housing insecurity because of their efforts to protect themselves and their children,” the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission Director of Policy & Intergovernmental Affairs, Ashley Walkowiak, said in a press release, highlighting the importance of such acts.

Deanna Dyer, the policy director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, also said that a lack of access to affordable housing is one reason why many survivors may find it hard to leave an abusive situation.

“One of the biggest gaps in survivors being able to leave abusive relationships and stay out of abusive relationships is the need for safe, accessible, affordable housing,” Dyer said.

House Bill 1441 aims to amend a set of laws commonly known as The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 by adding an article to address the rights of tenants in cases of violence. The ultimate goal of this bill is to create fair and equitable housing opportunities for victims of violence and stalking and ensure their physical safety and mental well-being.

The bill was introduced by state Representative Lisa Borowski (D-Delaware) after being referred to the House Judiciary Committee back in June.

The article establishes a process by which victims of violence can be released from or terminate a lease early if they need to relocate as the result of an applicable crime, such as any crime that causes a physical or mental injury, sexual violence or stalking. Circumstances under which this process would protect the tenant include if the party responsible for committing a crime against the tenant has been released from prison or another detention facility, a court order is in place restraining the responsible party from contact with the tenant or a household member or a medical or mental health provider has indicated that the tenant is the victim of a crime.

For similar situations, tenants will also have the right to go through a process to change the locks of their rented unit, as laid forth in House Bill 1441. This process must still be done through the landlord and all new locks will still be required to be compatible with the landlord’s master key.

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Despite all 11 republican minority members voting “nay” on this bill, it has passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, receiving a “yea” vote from all 14 democratic majority members.