Housing is one of the primary needs of domestic violence survivors.1 Unfortunately, thousands of their requests for housing go unmet each year.2 As a result, survivors risk homelessness, having to return to their abusers, and other hardships.3
Survivors of domestic violence may face discrimination when seeking safe and affordable housing. A 2008 study by the Equality Rights Center (ERC) in Washington, D.C., found that 65% of apartment seekers who identified as domestic violence survivors experienced some form of different treatment compared to those who did not identify as domestic violence survivors – whether being denied housing or being offered less advantageous terms in order to obtain housing.4
The following sections highlight some of the legal protections for survivors seeking safe housing
- Federal and State Fair Housing Laws
The Federal and North Carolina State Fair Housing Acts (“FHA”) prohibit housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap (disability) in both the public and private housing. Although “domestic violence” is not listed explicitly as a protected class under the FHA, the FHA has repeatedly and successfully been used to protect them, when national, state, and local statistics show that the majority of domestic violence survivors are women, a group protected by the FHA.5 As such, a housing provider that discriminates against a domestic violence survivor may be violating the FHA by engaging in sex discrimination.
Some examples of possible discriminatory conduct include:
- Policies or practices that explicitly treat a female domestic violence survivor differently than other tenants may violate the FHA. For instance, if a housing provider 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, it could be a form of unlawful housing discrimination.
- Policies or practices that appear to be facially neutral, but that disproportionately impact women, or another protected group, could also violate the FHA. In these cases, a person does not have to show that the housing provider intended to discriminate against a protected group when it enacted the particular housing policy.
- “Zero tolerance,” criminal activity, and property damage policies that required eviction regardless if the circumstances involved domestic violence have been found to violate the FHA in certain instances.6 Successful challenges have also been made to local nuisance ordinances that penalize or fine a landlord for “excessive” calls for police or emergency services to a rental property, regardless of the reason for the call or if the call was made by a domestic violence survivor seeking assistance to stop the abuse.7
African-American and Native American women experience higher rates of domestic violence than women in other racial groups.8 Women of certain national origins and immigrant women also experience domestic violence at disproportionate rates. Thus, a housing provider may also violate the FHA on the basis of race and/or national origin if the housing provider is discriminating against domestic violence survivors.
A domestic violence survivor may be a person with a disability. For example, a survivor may have become disabled or their disability may have been exacerbated because of domestic violence. Survivors with a disability, like all persons with a disability, are protected under the FHA and are entitled to make reasonable accommodation requests. A housing provider that fails to grant or respond to a reasonable accommodation request may be violating the FHA. Click here to learn more about reasonable accommodations.
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) applies to many subsidized housing programs operating in North Carolina, including Public Housing, Section 8 (project-based and tenant-based), Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties, and USDA Rural Development housing.9 It protects female and male victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Immediate family of the victim or any member of a victim’s household are protected. Victims on tribal lands are also protected, as well as LGBTQ and immigrant victims.
Under VAWA, covered housing providers:
- 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 permitted 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 lease termination or eviction a Notice of Occupancy Rights under VAWA (Form HUD-5380), which advises tenants of protections available to them under VAWA.
Under VAWA, survivors of domestic violence threatened with further violence can request an emergency transfer to a new unit.10
- North Carolina Landlord-Tenant Law
North Carolina law provides some protections to domestic violence survivors. These laws apply to subsidized housing providers and private landlords. In North Carolina, a landlord cannot terminate a lease, fail to renew a lease, refuse to enter into a new lease, or otherwise retaliate against a tenant because the tenant or a member of the tenant’s household is a victim of domestic violence.11 North Carolina law considers such actions to be unlawful discrimination,12 and tenants can exercise their rights under these laws as a defense or counter-counterclaim to an eviction or by filing a complaint in court. 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.13
More from this Newsletter Issue: Fall 2019
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