Before moving forward with any of these actions, you should first consult with an attorney to gain a better understanding of your rights and options. 

1.The Fair Housing Act

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating on the basis of sex, among other grounds. Discrimination against victims of domestic violence may constitute illegal sex discrimination: 1) when it is based on gender stereotypes about battered women, or 2) because it has a disparate impact on women as compared to men. This principle may also protect victims of sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence. The Fair Housing Act applies to most forms of housing.

2.You have the right to be treated equally in the application process.

A landlord cannot reject your application for tenancy as a result of learning that you have experienced domestic violence in the past.

3.You have the right to be treated equally as a tenant.

Your landlord cannot apply rules to you that are not applied to other tenants in response to learning that you are in an abusive relationship.

4.You have the right to be protected against discriminatory eviction.

Your landlord cannot evict you because you have been abused.

5.You have the right to call the police.

Your city or town cannot use a nuisance ordinance or other policy to penalize you for seeking emergency assistance for domestic or sexual violence you are experiencing.

6.You have the right to housing free of sexual harassment or violence from landlords or their staff.

Your landlord cannot demand sexual favors in exchange for doing repairs or not raising the rent.

7.The Violence Against Women Act

The federal Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (VAWA) sets out specific provisions to protect survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking who live in certain types of federally subsidized housing. Covered housing includes public and Section 8 housing; Section 202 housing for the elderly; Section 811 housing for people with disabilities; Section 236 multifamily rental housing; Section 221(d)(3) Below Market Interest Rate (BMIR) housing; HOME; Housing Opportunities for People with Aids (HOWPA); McKinney-Vento Act Programs; Rural Development multifamily housing programs; and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties.

8.You have the right to be treated equally in the admissions process.

  • Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) and covered landlords cannot refuse you admission to housing or deny you a housing voucher based on your status as a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
  • Covered housing providers, both public and private, cannot refuse to rent an apartment to you based on your status as a victim or based on a negative criminal, credit, or eviction record if this was directly related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

9.You have the right to be protected from eviction and voucher termination.

  • Incidents of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking do not provide PHAs and covered landlords with good cause for terminating your tenancy or voucher if you, an immediate family member, or someone you live with is the victim of that activity.  (This is an exception to the federal one-strike rule.)  The only exception to this protection is if the housing provider can prove there is an “actual and imminent threat” to other tenants or staff if you are not evicted.
  • Covered housing providers cannot subject you to a more demanding standard than other tenants in determining whether to evict you or terminate your voucher.

10.You have the right to seek a change in your lease, voucher, or unit to protect your safety.

  • Covered housing providers can “bifurcate” your lease in order to terminate your abuser’s tenancy and allow you and the rest of your household to remain in your home. If your abuser was the recipient of the covered housing assistance, you and any remaining tenants are entitled to an opportunity to demonstrate your eligibility for the assistance. If you cannot, your housing provider must give you reasonable time to find alternate housing or establish eligibility under another program.
  • If you must move to protect your safety, you may move out of your apartment early (in violation of your lease) and into another covered housing unit while retaining your VAWA-covered housing voucher.
  • You may be eligible for an emergency transfer, depending on your provider’s VAWA emergency transfer policy, if you request a transfer because you reasonably believe you face imminent harm or because you were a victim of sexual assault on the property in the past ninety days.  Federal agencies mandate that housing providers allow you to transfer to another safe and available unit.

11.Certification of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking

If you claim that your tenancy or voucher should not be terminated because you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, your housing provider may request proof that you are a victim. You have at least 14 business days to provide the documentation.

Acceptable proof includes:

  • Self-certification form, such as HUD Form 5382.
  • A written, signed statement from a victim services provider, an attorney, or a medical or mental health professional asserting that the incidents in question were acts of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking against you.
  • A police, court, or administrative record that indicates that you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

If two parties submit documentation with conflicting information, a housing provider may require you to provide a signed statement or record from a third party, as described above.

12.You have the right to confidentiality.

Covered housing providers must keep confidential all information relating to the fact that you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. The only exceptions are if you request disclosure of this information in writing, if it is required for use in an eviction/termination proceeding, or if it is otherwise required by law.

13.Protections under state law

Several states have enacted legislation that offers greater protection for victims of domestic and sexual violence. Some state laws provide protection from discrimination, early lease termination, and lock changes for survivors of violence.

14.Examples of discrimination

  • A landlord or public housing authority learns that you have experienced domestic violence in the past and rejects your application for tenancy as a result.
  • You notice that your landlord suddenly applies rules to you that are not applied to other tenants after the landlord learns that you are in an abusive relationship.
  • You are abused by an intimate partner in your home, and your landlord or public housing authority seeks to evict you immediately afterwards.
  • Your public housing authority terminates your housing voucher because you have called the police to your home for protection from domestic violence.
  • Your landlord subjects you to constant sexual harassment at your home.

15.Enforcing your rights

If you are a survivor of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking and have been injured by discrimination or believe that you are about to be injured by a threatened discriminatory act in violation of the Fair Housing Act and/or the Violence Against Women Act, you can proceed in one of the following ways. Before moving forward with any of these actions, you should first consult with an attorney to gain a better understanding of your rights and options.

16.Make a complaint to your landlord or housing authority.

Public housing authorities should have a standard procedure to follow when filing a complaint or grievance. Other types of housing may or may not have their own standard forms or procedures. No matter what, make your complaint in writing. If it is possible to do so, it is always quicker and simpler to resolve a problem directly, so raising the issue with your landlord should almost always be your first course of action. If the complaint is not dealt with properly, you may then want to proceed with one of the following options.

17.Use the law as a defense in an eviction action.

If your PHA or landlord is attempting to evict you in violation of the Fair Housing Act or VAWA, you can defend against the eviction by arguing that these laws prohibit punishing victims of domestic violence for the acts of their abusers except in certain narrow circumstances.

18.File a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

You can file a Fair Housing Act­ complaint with your HUD regional office within one year of the date the discriminatory act occurred. Alternatively, you may be able to file a complaint with your state fair housing agency. If HUD finds “reasonable cause” to believe that discrimination has occurred, then HUD will bring your case before an administrative law judge, or you can choose to have the Department of Justice take your case to court. To be connected to your HUD regional office, call (800) 669-9777, or visit www.hud.gov to file a complaint online.

19.Sue in court.

You have the right to file a case in federal or state court under the Fair Housing Act without going to HUD first. If you decide to sue under the Fair Housing Act, you must do so within two years of the discrimination

20.For more information about housing discrimination against domestic violence survivors, contact:

For more information about housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence, contact:

ACLU Women’s Rights Project
womensrights@aclu.org
(212) 549-2644

More information on housing discrimination against survivors: www.aclu.org/fairhousingforwomen
More information on local nuisance ordinances: www.aclu.org/notanuisance

If you want to share your experience with housing discrimination with us, fill out our survey:  www.aclu.org/dvsurvey

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