In 2005, Congress declared: “Women 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.” This was the experience of our clients Tiffani Alvera, Aaronica Warren, Quinn Bouley, “T. J.,” and Tanica Lewis, all of whom faced eviction in private, public, and subsidized housing because they had been subjected to domestic violence. Some were punished by “zero tolerance for crime” policies, even though they were the victims, and not the perpetrators, of violence. Others were blamed for the property damage caused by their abusers. In effect, these women were doubly victimized: first by the violence, then by housing discrimination.
For years, we have argued that discrimination based on domestic violence can be a form of sex discrimination, in violation of civil rights laws. We called on HUD to issue guidance explaining that this kind of discrimination is unlawful. Last Wednesday, HUD issued a memo to its regional offices describing how discrimination against domestic violence survivors can violate the federal Fair Housing Act. It stated that the following conduct can be unlawful:
- facially discriminatory policies based on stereotypes about abused women (e.g., a landlord who does not accept women with a history of domestic violence as tenants because he or she believes they always go back to the men who abuse them);
- unequal treatment of victims of domestic violence, compared to victims of other crimes; and
- policies that disproportionately affect domestic violence survivors, such as zero tolerance for crime policies.
The HUD guidance is another step forward in ending housing discrimination against domestic violence survivors because it enables survivors to vindicate their rights. And while the guidance does not specifically address the fair housing rights of victims of dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault, the same analysis should apply to protect the housing of all survivors of gender-based violence.