AURORA | Tracey Tatro-Swindle came home one day to find her ex-husband waiting for her in the dark. He had broken into her home while she was gone, leaving the Denver ER nurse shaken.
It wasn’t until he was away on business and several states away that she felt safe enough to flee with her children and finally escape 17 years of abuse at the hand of her ex-husband.
Aurora Rep. Dominique Jackson doesn’t think it should be this difficult for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking to find safety.
Sponsored by Jackson, a Democrat, and Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, HB17-1035 provides new ways for victims to break their leases with apartment complexes should they need to leave suddenly out of fear for their safety.
“As I started talking to people, I was finding out they were being not just re-traumatized, but re-victimized because they couldn’t afford to pay off their lease and then pay first month’s rent, deposit and pay to move,” Jackson said. “So they ended up being stuck in the same place that they had been assaulted or stalked.”
Currently, if a tenant notifies their landlord in writing that they are a victim of domestic violence or domestic abuse and provides evidence, typically in the form of a police report or a protection order, then the tenant may terminate their lease with minimal problems.
The bill would extend this privilege to victims of unlawful sexual behavior and stalking. In addition, it would provide two new ways for victims to prove their story: a statement from a medical professional or a statement from an application assistant designated by the address confidentiality program confirming the tenant’s victim status.
Jackson said it was important to have other means for victims to validate their story because going to the police isn’t always an option.
“There could be lots of reasons for that,” she said. “It could be because their perpetrator lives with them, it could be their perpetrator is their landlord, it could be that their perpetrator is someone in the community that is well regarded … people are afraid.”
Tatro-Swindle called the police when her ex-husband would show up unexpectedly, but she said it did little to deter him.
“A lot of times survivors don’t feel the police are very helpful,” she said. “It takes time for them to get there. In my experience, I would call the police if he showed up but he would still stay there until he knew they were arriving or he could get away and leave. So it does protect you in some ways but it’s really just a piece of paper most of the time.”
In addition, she said, many apartment complexes have something called a “nuisance clause.” If the police are called a certain amount of times the apartment can have a tenant evicted for causing a disturbance to other residents.
She added that going to a shelter isn’t always an option either. In her case, her ex-husband would always threaten to come find her and she couldn’t take the risk with her children’s safety.
The bill passed in the House Wednesday morning on a 62-3 vote and will now head to the Senate for full consideration. Jackson is optimistic about it becoming law because it is “a common sense piece of legislation.”
Tatro-Swindle is also hopeful and feels empowered that Colorado lawmakers are taking a closer look at an issue that is very important to victims, she said.
“Seeing legislators and the government are behind us and are there to protect us and support us is amazing,” the nurse said. “It’s very empowering for a survivor to be able to see there are people on their side that do believe them and are there to help them. A lot times you’re not believed and people tend to say things like ‘why didn’t you leave?’ and it’s never that easy.”