Protections for Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence
Survivors of domestic and sexual violence face a number of serious housing problems related to the acts of violence committed against them. In reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, Congress recognized that families are being discriminated against, denied access to, and even evicted from housing because of their status as survivors. Legal services providers have reported hundreds of cases where tenants were evicted because of acts of domestic and sexual violence committed against them. Focusing on defending survivors’ rights to maintain rental housing is particularly crucial because women living in rental housing experience domestic violence at three times the rate of women who own their homes. Further, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among survivors and their families. NHLP is a leading national expert on the housing rights of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. NHLP provides free technical assistance and training to Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) grantees and subgrantees as well as legal aid attorneys. NHLP has provided numerous trainings and extensive technical assistance on the housing provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Fair Housing Act, and state law housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Some of the services we offer OVW grantees include:
- Technical assistance via phone or email regarding survivors’ housing protections
- Web-based and conference-call trainings on common housing issues that survivors face
- Information and materials, such as fact sheets, advocacy materials, and training curricula
UPDATE (2020): Please see our new COVID-19 resource section in the list below regarding the pandemic’s impacts on survivors. We will be updating these resources as needed.
VAWA 2013’s Housing Protections
- Advocates are encountering courts that believe the housing protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) lapsed because of Congress’s failure to reauthorize VAWA in 2018. VAWA’s housing protections do not have sunset provisions and, therefore, did not expire. Advocates can use this template letter to inform courts that VAWA’s housing provisions remain in effect.
- VAWA 2013’s housing statute – 34 U.S.C. § 12491
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- HUD’s final rule on VAWA 2013 In November 2016, HUD published final regulations implementing VAWA 2013’s housing protections. This rule applies to the HUD programs covered by VAWA 2013. In December 2016, HUD issued corrections to the final rule.
- HUD’s VAWA 2013 forms As part of HUD’s final VAWA 2013 rule, the agency issued four new forms to be used by housing providers. Translated versions of these forms are available on HUD’s website in Armenian, Cambodian, Creole, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese. These forms are:
- Form HUD-5382 VAWA self-certification form
- Form HUD-5380 Notice of occupancy rights under VAWA
- Form HUD-5381 Model emergency transfer plan
- Form HUD-5383 Emergency transfer request form
- HUD notices implementing VAWA 2013 In May and June 2017, HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing and Office of Housing respectively issued notices (PIH-2017-08 (HA) and H 2017-05) for public housing authorities and owners/managers on implementing the requirements of VAWA 2013. The notices provide important guidance and clarification regarding key VAWA 2013 protections and remedies, including emergency transfers, lease bifurcations, and confidentiality.
- Related advocacy materials On June 1, 2015, NHLP, as part of the National VAWA Housing Working Group, submitted detailed comments to HUD on the agency’s proposed rule implementing VAWA 2013.
- USDA Rural Development (RD)
- In this updated administrative notice, RD AN No. 4814 (1944-N), RD informs State Directors, Program Directors, Borrowers, and Management Agents of the agency’s policies on implementing and administering VAWA 2013. For a summary of the notice’s key points, see NHLP’s Spring-Summer 2017 newsletter.
- Related advocacy materials On July 10, 2017, NHLP sent a letter to RD requesting amendments to RD AN No. 4814 (1944-N) and the promulgation of regulations to properly implement VAWA 2013.
Housing Q&A for Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence During COVID-19 (Nov. 2020) This resource, presented in a Q&A format, outlines basic information for survivors of domestic and sexual violence who rent their homes and who may have concerns about housing stability during the COVID-19 epidemic. The National Alliance for Safe Housing and NHLP jointly developed this resource.
Protecting Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence During COVID-19: A Q&A for Housing Providers (November 2020) This resource, published by the National Alliance for Safe Housing (NASH) and the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), provides information for owners and landlords in a Q&A format on how to help tenants/program participants experiencing domestic or sexual violence during the current pandemic.
What Housing Assistance Is Available to Immigrant Survivors During COVID-19? This new resource from the National Alliance for Safe Housing and the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project describes what help, including emergency shelter and housing assistance, is available for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking during COVID-19. As COVID-19 has exacerbated housing instability among survivors, it is critical survivors and their advocates understand what housing assistance, emergency shelter, and other public benefits they are eligible for.
Tenant Rights of Domestic Violence Survivors During COVID-19: A Resource for Domestic Violence and Housing Advocates (May 2020) En español: Derechos de las inquilinas sobrevivientes de violencia doméstica durante la epidemia de COVID-19: Un recurso para defensores de víctimas de violencia doméstica y de acceso a la vivienda The current COVID-19 epidemic has created a public health crisis, including increased reports of the incidence of domestic violence in the midst of shelter-in-place orders. Thus, ensuring access to safe, decent, and affordable housing for survivors remains as important as ever. This advocate resource provides a brief overview of the housing rights of survivors in the context of COVID-19.
“Tenants Rights of Survivors During COVID-19” (May 2020) The NHLP Domestic & Sexual Violence and Housing Newsletter features an article outlining the tenant rights of survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The article discusses eviction moratoriums, housing protections for survivors (including the Violence Against Women Act), asserting VAWA housing protections during the pandemic, and addressing lost income during the pandemic.
NHLP provides a number of webinars and in-person trainings on matters impacting the housing rights of survivors. Materials and recordings from past trainings are archived.
NHLP publishes a newsletter on a variety of current housing issues that affect survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
Manuals, Guidebooks, and Reports
This Toolkit helps survivor advocates and homeless shelter and housing program advocates understand the basic housing rights of survivors and provide information to help survivors get assistance accessing their housing rights. The scenarios in the Toolkit are directly connected to laws that provide housing protections for survivors. This Toolkit also provides overviews of the laws that may apply, and offers sample demand letters that advocates and survivors can use to advocate for their rights.
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 and local laws offer for domestic violence survivors. Examples of such protections include early lease termination provisions for domestic violence survivors, lock change laws, and affirmative defenses for evictions related to acts of domestic violence committed against a tenant. The updated compendium includes laws enacted as of December 2017. If you have questions or comments, please contact Renee Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update September 2020: Please note that there have been more recent updates since December 2017 that NHLP is currently working to incorporate into the Compendium publication. States with updates to their housing protections for survivors include Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, New York, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. If you are a housing advocate who would like the list of updated protections, please email email@example.com.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides survivors of domestic and sexual violence with strong housing protections and prohibits housing providers from using incidents of violence as grounds for evicting the survivor. Even though the 2013 VAWA reauthorization explicitly required that Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) providers comply with VAWA, the Department of the Treasury has issued no regulations or guidance on implementation for the LIHTC program. This new report finds that the inaction of the part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury has led to significant state-by-state variation in the implementation of VAWA protections in the LIHTC program. This, in turn, has a substantial impact on level of protection afforded to Guidebook on Consumer & Economic Civil Legal Advocacy for Survivors (2017) Produced in partnership with a cadre of on-the-ground advocates, attorneys, and organizational partnerships, the Center for Survivor Agency & Justice’s Guidebook offers concrete consumer and economic civil legal remedies, as well as nonlegal advocacy strategies, through the lens of survivor centered advocacy – rooted in the experiences of survivors who are living in poverty. The publication includes a chapter by NHLP on the housing protections of domestic and sexual violence survivors.
This Manual focuses on the rights of survivors who are facing loss of housing, who need to improve the safety of their housing, or who need to relocate. Some of the topics addressed include changing the locks; breaking the lease; defending against evictions and subsidy terminations; seeking remedies for housing discrimination; reasonable accommodations for survivors with disabilities; and the housing protections of the Violence Against Women Act. (This manual has not been updated to reflect the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013). For a summary of VAWA 2013’s housing protections, see this article.)
Access to the Appendices of the Manual is limited to legal services programs and Office on Violence against Women grantees. These programs should contact Renee Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain the Appendices.
This Manual provides a comprehensive review of domestic violence survivors’ rights in applying for housing. It includes information on the subsidized housing application process, common barriers to housing that survivors face, and strategies for challenging denials of housing. (This manual has not been updated to reflect the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013). For a summary of VAWA 2013’s housing protections, see this article.) Access to the Appendices of the Manual is limited to legal services programs and Office on Violence against Women grantees. These programs should contact Renee Williams at email@example.com to obtain the Appendices.
National Resource Packets
California Resource Packets
HUD Memos and Guidance
- Housing Discrimination against Domestic Violence Survivors HUD, “Assessing Claims of Housing Discrimination against Victims of Domestic Violence under the Fair Housing Act (FHAct) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)” (Feb. 9, 2011)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. According to HUD, claims of discrimination against domestic violence victims are generally based on sex, but may also involve other protected classes such as race or national origin. The memo discusses the legal theories behind these claims and provides examples of cases involving alleged housing discrimination against domestic violence victims.
- Nuisance and Crime-free Ordinances HUD, “Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Enforcement of Local Nuisance and Crime-Free Housing Ordinances Against Victims of Domestic Violence, Other Crime Victims, and Others Who Require Police or Emergency Services” (Sep. 13, 2016)This guidance examines how the enforcement of nuisance ordinances and crime-free housing ordinances could violate the Fair Housing Act. Since the overwhelming majority of domestic violence survivors are women, any policies or practices that affect survivors may constitute sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. This HUD guidance focuses on the effect that the enforcement of nuisance and crime-free housing ordinances may have on survivors of domestic violence. For a summary, see NHLP’s January-March 2017 newsletter.In November 2016, several divisions of the Department of Justice – Office on Violence Against Women, the Office on Community Oriented Policing Services, and the Office of Justice Programs – issued a joint statement about the HUD guidance on nuisance and crime-free ordinances. The joint statement notes that ordinances that include exceptions for survivors calling the police may still negatively affect survivors because incidents of domestic violence may be mischaracterized as excessive noise or property damage. The statement calls upon local governments and law enforcement agencies to be aware of such concerns when enforcing existing ordinances, or when considering whether to pass such ordinances, “particularly when they affect vulnerable populations, such as victims of domestic violence or people with disabilities.”
- Harassment in Housing HUD, “Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment Harassment and Liability for Discriminatory Housing Practices Under the Fair Housing Act,” Final Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 63,054 (Sep. 14, 2016)HUD issued a final regulation about harassment in housing. The regulation states that harassment can violate the Fair Housing Act. Importantly, the regulation covers sexual harassment, as well as harassment directed at a person or family because of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, or familial status. The regulation defines two types of harassment: “quid pro quo” harassment and “hostile environment” harassment. For a summary, see NHLP’s January-March 2017 newsletter.HUD, “Questions and Answers on Sexual Harassment under the Fair Housing Act” (Nov. 17, 2008)This 2008 memorandum from HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity addresses general questions about sexual harassment in housing under the Fair Housing Act.
- Use of Criminal Records HUD, “Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Transactions” (Apr. 4, 2016)This guidance explains that the use of criminal history in housing decisions can have a disproportionate effect on certain groups, which may violate the Fair Housing Act, even in the absence of an intent to discriminate. Housing providers cannot justify a policy of using criminal history in housing decisions based on generalizations or stereotypes about persons with criminal backgrounds. Instead, a housing provider must be able to demonstrate that its use of criminal history in housing decisions “actually assists in protecting resident safety and/or property.” Importantly, the guidance explains that an arrest alone (in the absence of a conviction) is not sufficient to prove that an individual violated the law. For a summary, see NHLP’s January-March 2017 newsletter.
- VAWA Self-petitioners and Immigrant Access HUD, “Eligibility of Battered Noncitizen Self-Petitioners for Financial Assistance Under Section 214 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980” (Dec. 15, 2016)This memo confirms the eligibility of VAWA self-petitioners for federal housing programs subject to immigration restrictions under Section 214 of the Housing and Community Development Act. These programs include the public housing, Housing Choice Voucher, and project-based Section 8 programs.HUD Notice PIH 2017-02 (HA), Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Self-Petitioner Verification Procedures (Jan. 19, 2017)This notice details how public housing authorities can verify VAWA self-petitioners’ immigration status using the DHS Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system.DOJ, HHS & HUD, Joint Letter on Immigrant Access to Programs to Protect Life or Safety (Aug. 5, 2016)This joint letter is addressed to recipients of federal financial assistance to remind them that they may not withhold services that are necessary to protect life or safety based on the immigration status of the person seeking such services. The letter reiterates long-standing federal policy that recipients of federal funds may not deny immigrants critical, lifesaving services, such as emergency shelter, short-term housing assistance, counseling, and intervention programs. For a summary, see NHLP’s January-March 2017 newsletter.HUD, The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 and HUD’s Homeless Assistance Programs (Aug. 16, 2016)HUD’s SNAPS office published its own fact sheet with guidance about exceptions to immigration restrictions for assistance funded through the Continuum of Care and Emergency Solutions Grants programs. The fact sheet states that HUD has determined these programs do not have immigration restrictions: Street Outreach Services; Emergency Shelter; Safe Haven; and Rapid Re-Housing. The fact sheet also notes that transitional housing where the HUD funding recipient or sub-recipient owns or leases the building used to provide housing is exempt from immigration restrictions. However, transitional housing programs that provide rental assistance payments are subject to immigration restrictions because rental assistance is provided on the basis of income. For a summary, see NHLP’s Spring-Summer 2017 newsletter. For more information on these topics, see NHLP’s webinar and materials on immigrant access to federally assisted programs.
- Equal Access to Housing HUD, “Equal Access in Accordance With an Individual’s Gender Identity in Community Planning and Development Programs,” Final Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 64,763 (Sep. 21, 2016)HUD issued a regulation that amends the agency’s 2012 Equal Access Rule, which prohibits housing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) persons and requires equal access to HUD-funded and HUD-insured programs regardless of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. The 2016 regulation specifies obligations under the Equal Access Rule for programs funded by HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD), which includes the Emergency Solutions Grants and the Continuum of Care programs. For a summary, see NHLP’s January-March 2017 newsletter.
Cases and Conciliations
The website for the Domestic Violence and Housing Technical Assistance Consortium that provides resources and tools to advance work at the intersection of domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness, and housing.
The ACLU Women’s Rights Project website contains litigation documents, fact sheets and other materials regarding survivors’ housing rights.
Legal Momentum’s website contains a variety of materials on survivors’ housing rights, including statistics and litigation documents.
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s website contains policy documents, reports and information on state law housing protections for survivors of domestic violence.
NNEDV’s Housing Project supports transitional housing programs across the country, through training, program development, and policy advocacy. This website includes a toolkit for transitional housing providers.
This website contains a number of fact sheets, statistics, reports, and advocates’ guides on the intersection between housing, homelessness, and sexual violence.