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Gaining access to and maintaining affordable housing is essential to helping survivors of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault to escape abusive relationships and start new lives free of violence. The Violence Against Women Act of 2005 (VAWA) protects individuals applying for or living in federally subsidized housing from being discriminated against because of their status as survivors of domestic violence, dating violence or stalking. Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking who do not live in subsidized housing and therefore are not covered by VAWA may still be protected by federal and state fair housing laws. Additionally, many states and municipalities have enacted specific protections for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
Please note that the materials below have not been updated according to the new housing provisions under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013). For a summary of the key housing protections under VAWA 2013, see this article. If you have any questions, please contact Karlo Ng at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NHLP has published a comprehensive manual for advocates titled "Maintaining Safe and Stable Housing for Domestic Violence Survivors: A Manual for Attorneys and Advocates."
HUD Releases Domestic Violence and Housing Rules
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has clarified and strengthened its regulations regarding rights of domestic violence survivors in federally subsidized housing. At a White House ceremony commemorating domestic violence awareness month, President Obama stated that the rules would prevent victims from being evicted or denied housing because they were abused. The rules incorporate several suggestions made by the National Housing Law Project and its allies. (From Law Bulletin Vol. 40)
HUD Publishes Violence Against Women Act Interim Rule
This Housing Law Bulletin article summarizes the key provisions of HUD’s VAWA interim rule, which amended subsidized housing regulations to incorporate VAWA’s protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. (From Law Bulletin Vol. 39)
State and Local Housing Protections for Domestic Violence Victims Gaining Momentum
Advocates throughout the country are lobbying for or implementing a variety of state and local housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. These efforts build upon the recent movement within the domestic violence and housing advocacy communities to address obstacles that survivors often face in maintaining housing, such as being evicted for calling the police or because the batterer caused a noisy disturbance at the dwelling. This Housing Law Bulletin article summarizes state and local housing protections available to survivors. (From Law Bulletin Vol. 38)
HUD Issues VAWA Guidance for Project-Based Section 8 Owners
This Housing Law Bulletin article summarizes a notice that HUD issued to project-based Section 8 owners regarding their obligations to comply with VAWA. The notice is particularly significant given that HUD field offices had previously misinformed project-based owners that they were not obligated to implement VAWA, and several advocates have reported that project-based owners are unaware of their obligations under the statute. (From Law Bulletin Vol. 38)
Housing Benefits for Qualified Aliens Who Are Battered Still in Question
In 2003, Congress directed HUD and the Justice Department to interpret housing statutes consistently with immigration and public benefits statutes so that qualified alien battered immigrants would be eligible for federally subsidized housing. However, qualified alien battered immigrants continue to be denied housing benefits that are necessary to escape abuse. This Housing Law Bulletin article summarizes the current state of the law regarding battered immigrants’ eligibility for federally subsidized housing. (From Law Bulletin Vol. 33)
Meister v. Kansas City, Kansas Housing Authority (D. Kan. 2011)
A housing authority terminated a Section 8 tenant’s voucher due to damages to her unit. The tenant alleged that the damages occurred as part of domestic violence committed against her. The tenant filed suit against the housing authority, alleging that the termination of her voucher violated the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and constituted sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. The housing authority filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court denied. The court found that there was a material issue of fact as to whether the housing authority knew that the damage to the tenant’s unit was caused by domestic violence. The court declined to rule whether the tenant had a right of action, enforceable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, pursuant to the provisions of VAWA.
Pittman v. Dakota County Cmty. Dev. Agency (Minn. Ct. App. 2009)
The housing authority initiated termination proceedings against a Section 8 voucher tenant for having an unauthorized occupant. At the informal hearing, the voucher tenant testified that this person had been physically violent toward her on several occasions, and introduced evidence demonstrating that he lived at another address. Despite this, her assistance was terminated. The appellate court reversed the termination because the hearing officer disregarded the tenant’s evidence and mitigating circumstances, including the fact that she was the victim of domestic violence perpetrated by the alleged unauthorized occupant.
Metro N. Owners LLC v. Thorpe (N.Y. Civ. Ct. 2008)
Landlord sought to evict Section 8 tenant on the grounds that she stabbed her partner during a domestic dispute. The tenant submitted police reports and a restraining order showing that she was the victim of domestic violence, along with evidence that the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute her for the alleged stabbing. The court found that the tenant was the victim of domestic violence, and that VAWA precluded the landlord from evicting her.
Robinson v. Cincinnati Hous. Auth. (S.D. Ohio 2008)
A tenant requested a transfer to another public housing unit after she was attacked in her home. The housing authority denied her request, stating that its policy did not provide for domestic violence transfers. The tenant alleged that by refusing to grant her occupancy rights granted to other tenants based on the acts of her abuser, the housing authority intentionally discriminated against her on the basis of sex. The court denied her motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
Bouley v. Young-Sabourin (D. Vt. 2005)
A tenant was evicted after her husband assaulted her. The tenant alleged that the landlord evicted her because she was a victim of domestic violence, and that this constituted sex discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The court denied the landlord’s motion for summary judgment.
Alvera v. Creekside Village Apartments (Or. 2001)
A management company sought to evict a tenant under a “zero tolerance for violence” policy because her husband had assaulted her. HUD found that a policy of evicting innocent victims of domestic violence because of that violence has a disproportionate impact on women, and found reasonable cause to believe that the tenant had been discriminated against because of her sex.
Hous. Auth. of St. Louis County v. Boone (Mo. Ct. App. 1988)
In this pre-VAWA case, a public housing tenant requested that the housing authority remove her husband from the lease after he fired a gun in the apartment. Shortly thereafter, the tenant informed the housing authority that she had separated from her husband. She requested a hearing and asked for a rent adjustment based on the change in her family composition and income. At the hearing the tenant submitted a restraining order she had obtained against her husband, but the housing authority refused to act on the tenant’s request to remove him from the lease. The court ordered the housing authority to reduce the tenant’s rent to reflect the change in her family composition, to terminate the husband’s tenancy, and to renew the tenant’s lease for one year.
1985 N.Y. Att’y Gen. Op. 45 (1985)
This opinion from the New York Attorney General’s Office states that a landlord may not require a married applicant for housing, who has been subjected to domestic violence, to obtain a divorce as a condition to renting an apartment. The opinion also states that a landlord may not adopt an across-the-board rule barring rentals to victims of domestic violence.
Comments on Housing Authorities’ Domestic Violence Policies
Under VAWA, housing authorities are required to state in their annual plans how they are serving the housing needs of survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault. Advocates can play a vital role during the annual planning process by urging their housing authorities to adopt policies that protect survivors’ housing rights. The following documents are comments that advocates have submitted to encourage their local housing authorities to improve survivors’ access to housing.
Sample VAWA Notices
Under VAWA, housing authorities are required to provide notice to public housing and Section 8 owners and tenants regarding their rights and obligations under the statute. The following documents are sample notices that housing authorities can use as part of fulfilling this obligation.
Sample Housing Authority Domestic Violence Policy
To ensure maximum compliance with VAWA, housing authorities should update their Section 8 administrative plans and public housing admissions and continued occupancy policies (ACOP) to include policies that protect survivors’ housing rights. This document contains sample VAWA language that can be incorporated into the administrative plan and ACOP.
Introductory Outline on Sexual Harassment in Housing
Due to the ever-growing demand for decent, affordable housing, landlords hold increased power over whom they rent to and under what circumstances. As a result of this power imbalance, many tenants are subjected to sexual harassment by housing providers and their agents. Examples of such harassment include requesting sexual favors in exchange for rent, making sexually derogatory comments, or constantly leering and staring at a tenant or applicant. When the harassment disrupts the tenant’s right to enjoy his or her housing, federal fair housing laws as well as state and local laws may protect the tenant. This outline explains what statutes exist to protect tenants and how to enforce them.
Statutes and Regulations
State Law Compendium: Housing Rights of Domestic Violence Survivors
NHLP is pleased to announce the publication of “Housing Rights of Domestic Violence Survivors: A State and Local Law Compendium.” This Compendium compiles state and local laws that affect domestic violence survivors’ housing rights. It is designed to serve as a starting point for advocates seeking to conduct research on the housing protections that their state laws offer for domestic violence survivors.
HUD Memo: Housing Discrimination Against Domestic Violence Victims
This memo from HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity provides guidance to HUD staff on assessing claims by domestic violence victims of housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook
HUD’s Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook includes a chapter on domestic violence. This document contains helpful language encouraging housing authorities to adopt domestic violence preferences and to accept a broad range of evidence as proof of domestic violence.
HUD Guidance on Sexual Harassment and Housing
This memorandum from HUD’s office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity addresses general questions about sexual harassment in housing under the Fair Housing Act.