On August 19, 2013 Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 612 (Leno) into law. The legislation expands the protections afforded to domestic violence victims when terminating a residential lease. Under current law, a resident who is a victim of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault or elder abuse may terminate their lease by providing a police report or a protective order issued by the court.
The new law, which goes into effect January 1, 2014, allows for additional forms of documentation that a resident may present to a property owner or manager to end their lease. Documentation from a “qualified third party” or a “health practitioner” must now be accepted. Additionally, these protections are extended to victims of human trafficking.
A “qualified third party” is defined as a domestic violence counselor, sexual assault counselor, or human trafficking caseworker, while the law defines “health practitioners” as physicians, surgeons, psychiatrists, psychologists, registered nurses, licensed social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists, or licensed professional clinical counselors. Prescriptive language for the Tenant Statement and Qualified Third Party Statement is also included in the law.
Under the new law, a landlord is prohibited from disclosing any information provided by the tenant regarding the early termination of his or her lease based on documented abuse unless: (a) the tenant consents in writing to the disclosure; or (b) the disclosure is required by law or order of the court. However, a landlord may contact a qualified third party to verify the legitimacy of the statements.
The law includes a sunset provision for the definition of “qualified third party” for legislative review. In addition, Judicial Council was given an extended deadline of July 1, 2014 to develop or revise a form for an affirmative defense to an unlawful detainer action.