Law Safeguards Tenants Who Are Domestic Abuse Victims
By Henry Dubro, Advanced RAM
The Violence Against Women Act of 2005 (VAWA) provides several safeguards for tenants who are victims of domestic violence, the overwhelming majority of whom are women.
The act addresses actions of landlords and property management companies that can be considered a breach of the rights of survivors of domestic violence. The act applies only to tenants who live in public and government-assisted housing.
VAWA, in combination with the Fair Housing Act, has added specific requirements for landlords and property managers. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to "refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin."
However, only a few states have provisions that specifically protect tenants of conventional housing who are victims of domestic violence from eviction or other forms of housing discrimination.
The states that prohibit discrimination against domestic violence victims are North Carolina, Rhode Island and Washington State.
Colorado, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania protect survivors of domestic violence from eviction, and New Mexico courts will not grant an eviction order if the cause for the eviction arises from a domestic violence incident and the tenant has filed for a temporary restraining order.
Legislation that would prohibit housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence is under consideration in many states that do not currently have safeguards in place.
Specific protections given to tenants of public and government-assisted housing under the 2005 VAWA include the following:
- Incidents of domestic violence are not considered serious or repeated violations of the lease and do not constitute good cause for terminating the tenancy.
- The act prohibits the termination of a tenancy based on criminal activity by a household member, guest or other person under the tenant's control if the criminal activity involves domestic violence against the tenant.
- An individual’s status as a victim is not a reason for denial of tenancy or program assistance, eviction or termination.
- Victims may not lose their subsidy if their abusers committed a criminal activity related to the abuse, such as an abuser assaulting the victim in her home.
- Victims must certify their status as a victim of domestic abuse by presenting appropriate documentation to the housing authority or Housing Choice Voucher landlord.
- Landlords and housing authorities now may split a lease to maintain a victim’s tenancy while evicting the perpetrator.
For more information on the VAWA 2005 and the Fair Housing Act, visit the Web sites:
Henry Dubro, Advance RAM, is the current NAHB Multifamily Pillars of the Industry RAM of the Year Award recipient and vice chairman of the RAM Board of Governors.