Victims of domestic violence are protected from discrimination in housing under the Fair Housing Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and North Carolina’s Landlord-Tenant laws. Protections under the Fair Housing Act and North Carolina’s Landlord-Tenant laws apply to private rentals, as well as subsidized housing (e.g. public housing, Section 8 housing). Protections under the Violence Against Women Act apply only to subsidized housing.
Generally speaking, these legal protections apply to the following situations:
- when a landlord tries to evict a tenant based on domestic violence
- when a landlord refuses to rent to someone because they are a victim of domestic violence
- when a tenant wants to terminate a lease early because of domestic violence
- when a tenant wants to have the abuser removed from the lease
The following provides an overview of some of the specific legal protections available to survivors of domestic violence. If you have questions about your legal rights, contact the Fair Housing Project of North Carolina by e-mail or toll free at 855-797-3247.
1. Fair Housing Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of dwellings and in other housing-related activities because of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. Although “domestic violence” is not listed explicitly as a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, the law has repeatedly been used to protect survivors of domestic violence. Claims brought by survivors of domestic violence may also involve other protected classes, such as race, national origin, or disability.
Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords must treat female and male tenants equally. For example, if a landlord does not usually evict tenants who are victims of violent crimes, but evicts women who are abused by a partner, this could be illegal sex discrimination that violates the Fair Housing Act. Other examples of policies or practices that may violate the Fair Housing Act because they explicitly treat a female domestic violence survivor differently than other tenants include when a landlord or housing manager:
- refuses to rent to a female domestic violence survivor
- charges a higher security deposit to a female domestic violence survivor because the landlord believes she will “probably” have more property damage at the home
- evicts the female domestic violence survivor, but allows her husband to remain in the housing
Housing policies may also violate the Fair Housing Act if they disproportionately deny housing to female survivors of domestic violence, because the Fair Housing Act prohibits sex discrimination, and the majority of domestic violence survivors are women. For example, “zero tolerance” criminal activity and property damage policies could violate the Fair Housing Act when a housing authority or landlord:
- evicts a tenant who is the victim of domestic violence under “zero tolerance” policies
- evicts a tenant for repeated phone calls to the police for domestic violence incidents because of “noise” disturbances reported by other tenants
- evicts a tenant because of property damage caused by the abuser
2. Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence under North Carolina’s Landlord-Tenant Laws
North Carolina’s landlord-tenant laws prohibit a landlord from doing the following based on the tenant being a victim of domestic violence:
- terminate a lease
- fail to renew a lease
- refuse to enter into a new lease
- retaliate in any way against the tenant
Tenants can exercise their rights under these laws as a defense to an eviction or by filing a complaint in court.
In North Carolina, a victim of domestic violence is also entitled to (1) have the locks changed by their landlord, and (2) terminate a lease early without financial penalty. See N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 42.3, 42-45.1.
3. Protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
Congress has acknowledged that “[w]omen and families across the country are being discriminated against, denied access to, and even evicted from public and subsidized housing because of their status as victims of domestic violence.”
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) applies to many subsidized housing programs operating in North Carolina, including Public Housing, Housing Choice (“Section 8”) Vouchers, Project-Based Section 8 Housing, Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties, and USDA Rural Development housing.
VAWA protects female and male victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Immediate family of the victim and any member of a victim’s household are also protected. VAWA further protects victims on tribal lands as well as LGBTQ+ and immigrant victims.
Under VAWA, a housing provider:
- cannot deny an applicant admission into housing because of domestic violence
- cannot terminate a survivor’s housing assistance because of domestic violence
- cannot evict a survivor because of domestic violence, criminal activity related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking where the tenant is or has been the victim
- a landlord or housing agency can only evict a survivor/victim for domestic violence if there is an actual and imminent threat to employees or other tenants if the survivor is not evicted
- if the abuser is on the lease with the domestic violence survivor, the housing provider is allowed to evict the abuser and allow the survivor to continue to live in the home
Covered housing providers must also provide all tenants threatened with eviction a Notice of Occupancy Rights under VAWA (Form HUD-5380). This form provides tenants with information about the protections available to them under VAWA.
Under VAWA, survivors of domestic violence may request an emergency transfer to a new unit.
If you have questions about your legal rights, contact the Fair Housing Project of North Carolina by e-mail or toll free at 855-797-3247.
The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant (FEOI190031) with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.