Are domestic violence victims bound to a lease if they fear for their lives?
Reporter: Valerie Cavazos
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Leaving a violent relationship isn't easy. Some victims feel trapped -- especially if they live in an apartment -- bound to a lease.
One Tucson woman, who fears for her life, is in that very situation and came to 9OYS to find out if victims have the right to terminate a lease -- without penalties.
Trish Rodriguez has reason to be frightened of her estranged husband. He's behind bars now on 22 domestic violence charges. But she's worried he'll post bond at any time and come after her, her 8 year old daughter and her boyfriend.
"I'm terrified of him," said Trish. So terrified that Trish asked a court for an an order of protection -- against her estranged husband, Fernando Rodriguez. She called Tucson Police after she found her truck on fire at her apartment complex. Trish told police her estranged husband did it.
"I know that it wasn't just my truck burning. It was a message. It feels to me that it was your next or your lucky that i didn't do this to you instead. That could have been my apartment," said Trish.
So Trish felt she and her family had to leave the apartment -- not only for her family's safety, but for those living in the complex. "And if we were in that apartment complex, he would find me. he would absolutely come and find me," she said.
Trish lives with her boyfriend. His name is on the lease and also on the order of protection. KGUN 9 asked Trish, "What did (the apartment management) tell you when you told them your situation?"
She answered, "They wanted a copy of the order of protection and they said because I wasn't on the lease there was nothing I can do."
She says the apartment complex agreed to let her boyfriend out of the lease, but he has to pay an early termination fee of a thousand dollars.
It turns out, he doesn't.
An Arizona statute -- 33-1318 -- covers early termination by tenants for domestic violence.
Beverly Parker, the managing attorney at Southern Arizona Legal Aid said, "If they want to move, they are entitled to." Including anyone living with the victim. "Even if they weren't on the order of protection they would be covered under the statute," said Parker.
And the statute clears the tenant of having to pay any early termination fees.
KGUN9 asked Parker, "Shouldn't most landlords know something like this?"
Parker answered, "I think most do. If they don't they really are cruising for a bruising so to speak. They're going to get themselves into trouble. If they have someone who's asking to be let out of lease and an incident of violence occurs then they could have civil liabilities for damages."
So the bottom line here -- the state statute is designed to protect both the landlord and the tenant. Domestic violence victims can get out of their lease, but they must give the apartment management -- within 30 days -- a police report or protection order along with a written notice asking for a termination date. Parker says victims don't have to stay at the apartment if they feel the their lives are in danger.
Domestic violence can contact the Southern Arizona Legal Aid for help.