Since 2007, Arizona has had a law allowing domestic-violence victims to terminate their leases early and move, without penalty, to protect their safety.
But that hasn't helped Anne Koshinski, who said her landlord refused to return her security deposit and threatened to collect the remaining four months' rent due on her lease when she moved out after her abusive former boyfriend moved in across the street.
Koshinski isn't alone, said Anthony Young, executive director of Southern Arizona Legal Aid.
Sometimes, landlords don't know about the law, and, in some cases, he said, landlords try to intimidate tenants or keep them in the dark about their rights, Young said.
Koshinski's ex-boyfriend was evicted from the Monterey Gardens Apartments, 1039 N. Alamo Ave., where both lived in separate apartments.
The relationship was stormy, Koshinski said, including domestic violence and culminating in her filing an order of protection with Tucson police. She doesn't want to leave the Monterey Gardens but doesn't feel safe with her ex living across the street, she said.
The Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act allows tenants to terminate a lease when domestic violence is involved without being liable for security deposits or future rent, if they present the landlord with a protective order or a police report. But when she submitted her order of protection and request to end her lease on Sept. 27, Koshinski said, Northpoint Asset Management, which manages the complex, refused.
David Walsh, Northpoint's president and chief marketing officer, said his firm has received legal counsel on Koshinski's case and is not in violation of the law, but he would not comment further.
"Well, the landlord is just wrong," Young, from Southern Arizona Legal Aid, said. He said about half the people coming to his office state they are victims of domestic violence, and an order of protection alone is enough to get tenants out of a lease.
Young advises domestic-violence victims who must move to present the landlord with the law and relevant documents such as an order of protection, and if they don't comply, to seek legal help from offices like his. He said it is especially important for people with a Section 8 low-income housing subsidy to follow the letter of the law because a lawsuit could result in losing assistance.
"A huge dynamic of domestic violence is displacement," said Stephanie Noriega, who works with housing issues at Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse. She estimates 150 people each month look for help with relocation from Emerge, with requests ranging from a place to stay for the night to permanent relocation resources.
Economic issues are the biggest reason victims struggle to get away from abusers and the places abusers can easily find them, Noriega said. But, she added, victims often don't know about the statute that could ease those concerns.
The Arizona Multi-Housing Association, which was involved in passage of the law, referred questions to Becky Noel, Crime Free Multi-Housing Officer with the Tucson Police Department, which just completed its final training session of the year on Arizona tenant law for landlords and property managers.
The protection of the law is twofold - it helps victims move, and it allows landlords to remove suspects from leases and avoid incidents on their properties, Noel said. "It's a win-win," she said, good for everyone's safety.
While losing income might be a concern for landlords, Noel said she believes that the statute is rarely used.
The law also provides property owners the right to seek compensation for losses from the person cited in an order of protection.
In a case like Koshinski's, that is the ex-boyfriend, according to Young.
For her part, Koshinski is going ahead with her move even though her hopes of getting her $150 deposit back are slim.
"I hope it all works out," she said, "but at least I can walk away knowing I did the right thing."
Hannah Gaber is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4117.