Fair Housing and Domestic Violence

Survivors of domestic and sexual violence often face housing discrimination because of the violence committed against them. Such discrimination can include being denied admission to, or being evicted from, housing due to acts of violence committed against survivors. This discrimination jeopardizes housing security for survivors and their families who are leaving abusive situations. Unfortunately, such discrimination can stem from stereotypes about survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including that their presence at the property poses a safety threat to other tenants, or that unit damage by the abuser is the survivor’s fault. In addition to discrimination by landlords, many localities across the country have adopted what are known as “nuisance” or “crime-free” ordinances, which place pressure on landlords to evict survivors for simply calling the police seeking protection from an abuser.

Because the overwhelming majority of domestic violence survivors are women, they are protected by the federal Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination. Therefore, policies and practices that target or otherwise discriminate against women because of their status as domestic violence survivors are likely unlawful under federal law. The FHA is a powerful tool for advocacy on behalf of female survivors because the statute applies to most housing, including privately-owned housing, with few limited exceptions.

NHLP’s work regarding the intersection between fair housing and domestic violence supports our broader initiative to promote the housing rights of survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Select Cases

Dickinson v. Zanesville, 975 F.Supp.2d 863 (S.D. Ohio 2013)

The court found that a domestic violence survivor had established a prima facie case for sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) against a housing authority for allegedly forcing her to leave her public housing unit due to instances of domestic violence committed against her and subsequently providing negative references to the survivor’s prospective landlords. The court noted from the factual allegations that the housing authority was aware that the survivor experienced domestic abuse; therefore, punishing her for her abuser’s actions and ignoring its obligations under VAWA could give rise to a sex discrimination claim under the FHA. The court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Bouley v. Young-Sabourin, 394 F.Supp.2d 675 (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.

City of Berlin, NH (HUD Conciliation Agreement 2015)

HUD filed a fair housing complaint against the City of Berlin alleging that the City’s ordinance requiring landlords to evict tenants cited three or more times for “disorderly behavior” was illegally discriminatory as it had a disproportionate effect on women who were domestic violence survivors. The HUD Conciliation Agreement required the City to amend the ordinance to exempt incidents where the resident is a victim of domestic violence.

Survivor and New England Family Housing Management Organization & Survivor and Michael Warren (HUD Conciliation Agreements 2014)

A Section 8 voucher holder who was a domestic violence survivor alleged that property owners and landlords violated the Fair Housing Act and VAWA when they refused to rent to her because of calls she made to the police related to domestic violence. The survivor entered into HUD Conciliation Agreements with the current owner and landlord and a prospective landlord. The agreements required in part that the owners and managers revise their standard leases to comply with VAWA, attend fair housing and VAWA trainings, and pay the survivor monetary damages.

Hope v. Valencia Village (HUD Conciliation Agreement 2014)

A domestic abuse survivor alleged that her landlord violated the Fair Housing Act on the basis of sex and familial status by refusing to rent her an apartment because she failed to provide full social security numbers of her minor children due to domestic violence-related safety concerns. The parties entered into a HUD Conciliation Agreement under which the landlord had to revise the housing policy to prohibit discrimination against domestic abuse survivors, pay monetary damages to the plaintiff, and permit the survivor to provide truncated social security numbers of her children when reapplying for housing.

HUD v. Southgate Apt. Co. (HUD Charge of Discrimination 2014)

A Section 8 voucher holder filed a complaint with HUD alleging that Southgate Apartments violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by refusing to renew her lease and initiating an eviction action against her after she and her son were stabbed by her then boyfriend. HUD charged the owner and manager with violating the FHA by discriminating against the survivor.

Briggs v. Norristown (HUD Conciliation Agreement 2014)

A domestic violence survivor sued the Borough of Norristown challenging an ordinance that penalized landlords with tenants who called the police too many times during a certain period. The ordinance did not have an exception for domestic violence survivors seeking police protection from their abusers. As part of the private settlement agreement and HUD Conciliation Agreement, Norristown repealed the ordinance, paid the plaintiff damages, and created an education and outreach program, including a brochure regarding rights under the Fair Housing Act. Further, the agreement mandated that Norristown require certain town officials and employees to undergo fair housing training with an emphasis in sex and disability discrimination.

Alvera v. Creekside Village Apartments (HUD Reasonable Cause Finding and Charge of Discrimination 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. HUD further issued a charge of discrimination against the property managers and owners.