Lawmaker introduces bill to protect victims of stalking, sexual assault

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DENVER -- Victims of stalking and sexual assault who are too scared to go back into their own homes have no recourse to break their rental leases without paying hefty penalties.

But a bill in the Colorado State House would allow survivors of those attacks to break their lease without penalty.

Victims of domestic violence and domestic abuse currently have that right in Colorado, but victims of stalking and sexual assault do not, even if their apartment is where the crime took place.

State Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora, is trying to change that.

In front of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Michelle Aswad shared her personal story.

“I was sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend,” she told legislators.

The attack happened two years ago in her downtown Denver apartment.

“I had to sleep in the floor of my living room for six or seven months because I couldn’t go in my bedroom,” Aswad said.

Aswad said she was forced to stay in her apartment because the landlord wouldn’t let her out of her lease despite the attack.

“They put me in a position of it's my safety or I'm going to end up financially ruined for the rest of my life,” she said.

She was one of many who showed up Tuesday in support of the bill. She was one of many who said survivors of stalking and sexual assaults, under current law, are being revictimized by not being able to break their lease without penalty.

“I felt like I was made a prisoner in my home by my attacker and then by my lease and there was nothing I could do about it,” Aswad said.

Jackson aims to help survivors with a new bill.

“It gives victims an opportunity to heal and to move on and to move forward with their lives,” Jackson said.

She said the bill gives opportunity to survivors and gives landlords 30 days notice of the intent to vacate.

Landlords expressed concern about not having language in the bill related to making sure the victim’s continuing habitation in their rental is at risk. Jackson said lawmakers will work to address the concern.

“Everybody deserves a safe and affordable place to live,” Jackson said.

The bill passed the committee unanimously and moves to its second reading on the House floor.