HUD to Protect Domestic Violence Victims

WASHINGTON – Feb. 28, 2011 – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently issued guidance making it clear that residents who are denied or evicted from housing as a result of domestic violence may have basis to file a discrimination complaint with HUD under the federal Fair Housing Act.

The nation’s Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides some protections to victims of abuse who experience housing discrimination, but HUD sees a connection between domestic violence and housing discrimination since most victims are women. Sex is one of the protected classed under the Fair Housing Act, along with race, color, national origin, religion, familial status and disability.

“People in abusive relationships are not only victims of abuse, but potential victims of housing discrimination,” says John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Evicting a domestic violence victim from her home robs her of the one anchor she has in a sea of uncertainty. HUD is committed to using the Fair Housing Act to protect victims of abuse from unlawful denial of access to decent, affordable housing.”

Under the guidance, HUD will review claims of discrimination from victims of domestic violence to determine if there is sufficient evidence to apply the Fair Housing Act to their complaints.

For example, HUD says, a landlord who refuses to accept women with a history of domestic violence because the abusive man may return could be violating the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition against gender discrimination.

Similarly, a “zero-tolerance” policy for criminal activity – under which an entire household can be evicted for the criminal act of one household member – may have a disparate impact on women since they make up the overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims. Evicting women for the violent acts of their abusers may violate the Fair Housing Act.

Additionally, the guidance provides examples of recent housing discrimination cases and explains how VAWA protects victims of domestic violence from denial, eviction and termination from public housing and the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8).

HUD has issued its Domestic Violence guidance in PDF format.