Posted September 8, 202312:40 pm
By Allison K. Younger, 2023 Summer Associate with Legal Aid's Housing Practice Group
If you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking, and you live in public housing, have a housing voucher or if your housing is otherwise supported by the federal government, then the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects your rights as a tenant.
VAWA prohibits a landlord in these public and subsidized housing programs from:
- Refusing to rent to an applicant solely because the applicant is, or has been, a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking;
- Evicting a tenant who is the victim of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking because of threats or violent acts committed against the victim – even if the acts took place on the property, and even if they were committed by a household member or a guest; and
- Holding a tenant who is a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking to a higher standard than other tenants in any way (noise, damage to the rental unit, etc.).
In addition to VAWA, tenants also have protection under the Fair Housing Act’s anti-discrimination policies. Four in five victims of domestic violence are women, and women cannot be discriminated against due to their gender in housing situations. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) LGBT Rule requires equal access to HUD-assisted/insured housing regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
Further, anti-discrimination protection also applies to private landlords who have FHA-insured mortgages or participate in the Housing Choice Voucher Program. You have rights as a survivor of abuse and can take steps to protect yourself from housing discrimination.
Questions you might be asking yourself:
I don’t feel comfortable disclosing my history as a survivor to a landlord – how can I describe my living situation?
Many survivors are not comfortable talking about their situation but under VAWA landlords must keep that information confidential. Public and subsidized housing providers must keep the information confidential unless (a) a survivor gives consent in writing to release the information, (b) the information is required for an eviction proceeding or hearing regarding termination of housing assistance, or (c) the law otherwise requires.
I had to call the police on my abuser – am I going to be evicted?
If your landlord tries to end your lease or evict you because you utilized emergency services, contact an advocate. Under VAWA, landlords, homeowners, tenants, residents, occupants, guests of, or applicants for, any housing, subsidized and private, have the right to seek law enforcement or emergency assistance on their own behalf or on behalf of another person in need of assistance. You may not be penalized based on a request for assistance, based on criminal activity for which you are a victim, or where you are otherwise not at fault under a law, ordinance, regulation, or policy adopted by or enforced by a governmental entity that receives certain HUD funding.
What if I need to move before the end of my lease because of DV?
VAWA also created emergency housing transfer options in all federal housing programs. Survivors should be able to transfer to a different unit to have safer housing. Some public housing authorities and subsidized housing providers provide a preference to domestic violence survivors on their waiting lists. Survivors may be able to secure subsidized housing more quickly than if they were on the regular waiting list.
If you are facing Domestic Violence, you can get help by calling the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1.800.799.7233.
This article was published in Legal Aid's newsletter, "The Alert" Volume 39, Issue 2, in September 2023. See full issue at this link: “The Alert”- Volume 39, Issue 2 – Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.