HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and a local judge says she's been seeing a spike in domestic violence victims facing eviction.
"I want to say dozens, and to me, dozens are still too many. Even if it's one, it's still too many," said Harris County Justice of the Peace Wanda Adams.
She says over the last two months she's seen far too many domestic violence victims standing in her courtroom facing eviction or accused of breaking their leases after running away from their abusers.
"One woman told me she was moving from the apartment and trying to find places to live because she was fleeing from her abuser," Adams said.
She also says many of these women have no clue about the resources available to them, and by the time they reach her courtroom, it's too late.
"I can't hold off the case, because the Texas property code says the landlord has the right to their property if there's been a breach of the contract," Adams explained.
Jacklyn Guerra, manager of legal services with the Houston area women's center weighed in.
"The place of dwelling where they are living is the most dangerous place, it's often where most crimes of domestic violence happen," she said.
Because of that, there are laws in place that allow victims to break their leases without penalty.
"There is a Texas code that protects victims and survivors, there is a way to break your lease and walk away without that stressor of how this is going to affect my credit score or is it going to be in my credit report," said Guerra.
All a victim needs to legally break their lease is either a protection order, a police report, or a letter from a domestic violence center.
There's also rental assistance available for people fleeing abusive relationships, a lot of people don't know this. Guerra says it's not only important to make sure victims of domestic violence know their rights, but it's also critical that landlords understand them too.
"I provide this letter very often, and I would say four out five times I end up calling the landlord or apartment complexes myself and educating them about the law; like literally saying let me take you to the Texas property code, let me give you the number, read through it," Guerra said.
Adams says her hope is that more domestic violence victims become educated about their rights and the services available to them; which would prevent them from standing in her courtroom altogether.
"We don't want any of our victims, male or female, to feel that there's no hope and that the justices of the peace don't care, we do care," Judge Adams said.
For more information on resources in place to help assist victims of domestic violence, click here.