Settlement Reached in Case of Oregon Domestic Abuse Victim Who Faced Eviction; Important Precedent Set for Battered Women Nationwide
PORTLAND, OR--In a victory for victims of domestic violence everywhere, a property management company has agreed to end housing discrimination against battered women.
The agreement settles a lawsuit brought against The C.B.M. Group on behalf of Tiffani Alvera, whose landlord attempted to evict her from her home in Seaside under a ""zero-tolerance against violence"" policy in which all members of a household-including victims-are evicted if there is any violence in the apartment. The lawsuit was brought on Alvera's behalf by the U.S. government, Legal Aid Services of Oregon and the Oregon Law Center, along with attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project and NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.
""For too long, victims of domestic violence have lost their homes and been denied housing opportunities solely because of the behavior of their abusers-today we took a substantial step forward on the long road toward ending this kind of discrimination,"" said Ellen Johnson, a staff attorney with Legal Aid Services of Oregon.
Alvera, 24, welcomed the settlement, calling it ""a happy ending to a difficult struggle."" She has since moved to a different state, which remains undisclosed in order to protect her safety.
Although the case involved one woman, under the terms of the settlement the management company will stop applying its ""zero-tolerance"" policy to innocent victims of domestic violence in the five states where they own or operate housing facilities (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Oregon). In addition, the attorneys said that the settlement agreement will be a model for ending discriminatory evictions of victims of domestic violence in housing facilities throughout the country.
""Today's settlement should send a message to housing managers nationwide that applying 'zero-tolerance against violence' policies to victims of domestic abuse is discriminatory and will be challenged,"" said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project. ""The Women's Rights Project of the ACLU has consistently been at the forefront of these issues, challenging sex discrimination whenever and wherever it arises."" Lapidus said the ACLU is investigating similar complaints in other states where such policies are in effect.
Specifically, the settlement agreement calls for The C.B.M. Group -- the managers of Alvera's apartment complex -- to not ""evict, or otherwise discriminate against tenants because they have been victims of violence, including domestic violence"" and to revise all employee manuals with respect to current eviction proceedings. The C.B.M.Group employees will also be required to participate in education about discrimination and fair housing law. The property managers have also agreed to provide compensatory damages to Alvera.
The agreement is in effect for five years and the federal government will monitor the company to ensure that it is complying with the terms of the consent decree.
According to the federal sex discrimination lawsuit, Alvera was served with a 24-hour eviction notice by Creekside Village Apartments, (managed by The C.B.M. Group) after she informed them that she had obtained a temporary restraining order against her husband, who had attacked her in their apartment. The company said that ""zero-tolerance against violence"" policy in apartments they managed applied to her situation.
The lawsuit claimed that by seeking to evict Alvera because she was a victim of domestic violence, The C.B.M. Group illegally discriminated against her on the basis of sex. Since the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women, applying the ""zero-tolerance"" policy to victims of domestic violence has a disparate impact on women, and thus constitutes sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
""For a long time, victims of domestic violence were losing their homes and being denied housing opportunities solely because of the behavior of their abusers -- this consent decree changes that,"" said Martha Davis, Legal Director of NOW Legal Defense & Education Fund. ""NOW Legal Defense has been working to end discrimination against victims of domestic violence in housing and employment. We are opposed to any practices that penalize these victims.""
The case was initially filed by the U.S. Department of Justice after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigated the matter and determined that Alvera's rights had been violated. Alvera joined the case on her own behalf, represented by attorneys from Legal Aid Services of Oregon, Oregon Law Center, NOW Legal Defense & Education Fund, and the ACLU.
The consent decree in the case can be read online at: http://archive.aclu.org/court/alveraconsentdecree.pdf.
The legal complaint in the case can be read online at: http://archive.aclu.org/court/alvera.pdf or http://www.nowldef.org/html/issues/vio/housing.htm.
The ACLU Fact Sheet on domestic violence is available at: http://archive.aclu.org/news/2001/domviolence_factsheet.html.
The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund's website, which includes a variety of information on housing and employment discrimination against domestic violence victims is: http://www.legalmomentum.org/.