Supreme Court Decision Could Be Crucial to Protecting Domestic Violence Survivors

In 1999, Tiffani Alvera was violently assaulted by her husband in their Oregon home and had to be hospitalized. After she provided a copy of the restraining order she obtained to her property manager, her landlord ordered her to vacate the apartment within 24 hours. The eviction notice held her responsible for the violence committed against her, stating: "You, someone in your control, or your pet, has seriously threatened to immediately inflict personal injury, or has inflicted personal injury upon the landlord or other tenants." Her landlord refused to remove only her husband from the lease and instead sought to evict the entire household. Ms. Alvera filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ms. Alvera's complaint led to the federal government's first formal finding that the Fair Housing Act protects domestic violence victims from housing discrimination, including evictions based on the abuse committed against them. HUD concluded that penalizing victims for incidents of domestic violence in their homes can amount to sex discrimination because the vast majority of victims of domestic violence are women. Ultimately, Ms. Alvera was able to use the law to reform the management company's policies on evicting tenants based on domestic violence.

This concept – that evicting victims of domestic violence because of the abuse they face is not only wrong but illegal – should not be controversial. The courts and the federal government agree, having repeatedly found that the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence because of its "disparate impact" on women.

But now, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide a case that will determine the future of this key legal protection. Next week, the court will consider whether the Fair Housing Act prohibits policies that have a discriminatory effect, regardless of whether they were adopted with the intent to discriminate, in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. the Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.

Without the ability to bring disparate impact claims, many domestic violence survivors will have no recourse when they face the same double victimization as Ms. Alvera: first abuse, then an eviction notice blaming them for the violence in their homes. Even more disturbingly, landlords usually only become aware of the violence after survivors call for help, and so survivors are forced to choose between seeking safety and keeping their homes.

For example:

  • Quinn Bouley was evicted after her husband physically attacked her in their Vermont home. Ms. Bouley subsequently gave her landlord a copy of the restraining order that identified her husband as the perpetrator and barred him from the home. Nevertheless, days later, the landlord gave the victim, Ms. Bouley, a notice to vacate, stating that the domestic violence violated a provision in the lease forbidding tenants from using or allowing the premises to be used for unlawful purposes.
  • Tanica Lewis and her two daughters were the victims of a home invasion when her abusive ex-partner, who had never lived at the residence in Detroit, broke the windows, kicked in her door, and was arrested while she was at work. Ms. Lewis had previously informed her landlord that, pursuant to a protection order, her ex-partner was not to be allowed on the property. Yet, after the break-in, she received a notice of eviction, stating that she had violated her lease by failing to properly supervise her guests.
  • Kathy Cleaves-Milan called the police to remove her fiancé, who was threatening to shoot her and himself with a gun, from her home in the Chicago suburbs. Later, although she explained that she was the victim and gave her protective order to the landlord, she was told that "anytime there is a crime in an apartment the household must be evicted." Ms. Cleaves-Milan was subsequently forced to move and charged with a hefty lease termination fee.

All of these women successfully used the Fair Housing Act to fight the discrimination they experienced. This recurring pattern demonstrates how crucial disparate impact is to ensuring equal housing opportunities for women.

Most of the time, landlords that hold victims of abuse responsible for violence perpetrated against them do not say they are making their decisions because they intend to discriminate against women. Yet, as we described in our amicus brief, it is clear that the majority of domestic violence victims are women, and that time and again, the homes and security of female victims of domestic violence are jeopardized because ostensibly neutral housing policies that evict entire households following criminal activity are enforced against them.

The court should preserve this important and long-standing tool to advance fair housing. It empowers survivors to both reach out for safety and support and maintain their homes for themselves and their children.

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Anonymous

This article is, unfortunately, not at all clear, and needs to be rewritten.

“But now, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide a case that will determine the future of this key legal protection. Next week, the court will consider whether the Fair Housing Act prohibits policies that have a discriminatory effect, regardless of whether they were adopted with the intent to discriminate.”

What is the policy in question in this case? The article does not make that clear. And were there “policies” in earlier cases? How were they treated? Why is this case different? Or is this just the first time one of these cases has made it to the Supreme Court?

“Without the ability to bring disparate impact claims, many domestic violence survivors will have no recourse when they face the same double victimization as Ms. Alvera:

What is a “disparate impact claim”? The article does not make that clear. Is it the same as “policies that have a discriminatory effect”? If so, why not use the same term to describe the same thing?

“The courts and the federal government agree, having repeatedly found that the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence because of its "disparate impact" on women.”

If so, then what is going on in the current case, that isn’t already adequately covered by all those earlier "agreed" findings? Why don't the “many domestic violence survivors” have recourse? Did the individuals named in the article have recourse? The article does not say.

Thanks.

Anonymous

"vast majority of victims of domestic violence are women."[Quote] Because it's considered acceptable for women to physically abuse men. It's not considered a crime. The ACLU should know better. Man insults woman,woman slaps man,laughter..perfectly acceptable. Man slaps woman=Felony. It's nearly impossible for a woman to be arrest for domestic violence. Shame on you for quoting such an obviously flawed 'statistic' without explanation. I've lost some respect for the ACLU because of it.

Loretta Abel

It amazes me that the landlords use this rule against victims of any crime committed against them. Do they also use this rule to evict victims of burglaries? It would be interesting to note whether there is selective use of this rule to penalize the victims of domestic violence crimes but not other victims. I also know women who are fired from their employment for the abuse committed on the premises of their employment. If it is a man who's employment is infringed upon, the woman usually ends up in jail, and the man is protected by his boss. but women face termination on top of the stalking and abuse, and stigma for 'causing trouble' and 'having drama.' Not to mention if a man comes to her work and derides her, threatens her and male co-workers. even if she is in the throes of an abusive relationship, and needs the employment to separate herself from a violent partner, she will be terminated from a job for his behavior, because she is seen as somehow causing or contributing to the incident. like she is in control of him behavior.

Anonymous

According to the report published by the CDC in 2010 (CDC.gov), 1 in 7 men are victims of domestic violence. In all, about 33-50% of ALL domestic violence victims are men, according to numerous studies. The CDC said it was over 800,000 men per year (along with 1,200,000 women). Saying DV only majorly affects women has a harmful effect on male victims who are less likely to seek help, and more likely to be ridiculed instead of helped. The abuser always claims to be a victim, and when they are female, they are even more likely to be believed, and the real victim (the man) gets further abused by the system and former friends. I have learned this through my own personal experience as a male survivor of DV. ACLU, please educate yourself more about this issue before you spread misinformation.

Anonymous

I am a male victims of domestic violence. last year I was shoved off of the front porch and Tore a ligament. I was off work for a week and on crutches when my wife attacked me again. Calling the police did more damage than good as they are trained to stereotype and make gender biased decisions based on the Duluth model. Even though I was disabled and on crutches, I was arrested and charged because my “male privilege and position of dominance” I couldn’t even stand or walk but I was the problem? What ever happened to 14th amendment? Maybe if the police were not trained to be gender biased I would not have needed to get my broken tooth fixed 3 weeks ago.

Came across this sight and your comment while searching for help. I guess I won’t find it here either.

Hopeless

Can somebody please help me, I recently broke up with a woman I was dating and she took it very badly, she threw my keys and cell phone off a balcony then called the police and said I had thrown her around. I went to jail and eventually the DA refused to file charges after looking at the facts. I'm now fighting a TRO and I'm extremely scared, our justice system in the California bay area is very heavy handed when it comes to males. I have done nothing to this woman and wish nothing to happen to her, I just want to get on with my life and put this nightmare behind me.. I have a lawyer but the CJS needs a wake up call. Can the ACLU shed light on this issue please. I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life protecting and serving the people of this great nation and I'm just so heartbroken that in one false allegation I may lose it all..

Anonymous

I made a comment on May 6, 2015 was punched in the balls in June and spent 8 days in the hospital. I was asked if I was a victim of domestic abuse. I told the nurse that was imposible in Vermont because I am a man.

Anonymous

That is something I would not wish on anyone. If this happened, I hope you can get some legal satisfaction. Why there are no defenders of reverse discrimination, male victims of domestic abuse or why employer abuse is not taken seriously unless the victims fall into a specific category is in fact hypocritical. It makes one wonder if there is sincerity in righting wrongs or only selected wrongs where a big payout is involved. Bad employers and bad cops and partners should be resisted, too. Superman never made a distinction between color or gender, only truth, justice and the American Way.

James Keller

aclu thanks for this post, similiar in discriminations and holding dv victims guilty and responsible in cps custody keller cases in cleveland county nc courts, we need good attorneys in equal protection of the law practices, ada olmstead the list continues on and on. criminal acts goes from swearing to fabricated evidence to illegal tpr's and adoptions based on disabilities and poverty of dv victim plaintiff treated as adversaries when we make a complaint noise.

Anonymous

I started in domestic violence shelter for a year an a half now I'm in transitional housing my lease will soon be up but I was promise a housing voucher but they say it's none available. But some women receive them and so don't . I'm very upset because me and my child will have to go back to my abuser cause i don't make enough to pay rent so i tell my story and no one cares for us. So I hope this message touch some heart and if u can't save me and my child maybe it won't be too late for another woman and child.

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