1 1 DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & HOUSING: EXAMPLES FROM THE FIELD Meliah Schultzman National Housing Law Project, Training for CORT, December 4, 2009
2 What we re covering today 2 5 case studies that examine common housing issues that survivors of domestic and sexual violence face Brief summary of the applicable law State law protections for survivors Fair housing laws and protections for survivors Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): housing provisions for subsidized tenants Housing authority & housing provider DV policies Advocacy strategies that were used in the case studies
3 3 Common Housing Issues Survivors face many obstacles to accessing and maintaining housing
4 Barriers to Applying for Housing: Jan 4 Five years ago, at the advice of her atty, Jan pleaded guilty to assaulting her abuser, even though she acted in self-defense. Jan later applied for a Rural Development unit. Her application was denied because of her criminal record. At a meeting with the manager, Jan submitted letters of support from her employer and DV agencies. The manager refused to reconsider Jan s application.
5 5 The criminal history policy that resulted in Jan s denial
6 Barriers to Staying Safe: Yolaunda 6 Yolaunda was beaten at her public housing unit. Her abuser threatened to kill her if she returned to the unit. Yolaunda asked the housing authority for an emergency transfer to another public housing unit. The housing authority refused, saying that its policy did not provide for emergency transfers for domestic violence victims.
7 7 Press coverage of Yolaunda Robinson s Case
8 Barriers to Keeping Housing: Sonya 8 Sonya had a Section 8 voucher. One night, Sonya s abuser forced his way into her apartment. He cut himself on broken glass after he destroyed a cabinet in her apartment. Sonya s abuser told a security guard that he was bleeding because Sonya stabbed him. Sonya s landlord filed an eviction action against her on grounds of nuisance based on the alleged stabbing.
9 9 The 10-day notice to vacate that Sonya received
10 Barriers to Keeping Housing: Irene 10 Irene, a public housing tenant, was awakened and beaten by her live-in companion, who was subsequently arrested. PHA received one written complaint and several calls from residents concerning the altercation. Irene received an eviction notice for violating a lease provision that required her to ensure that her guests did not disturb other tenants.
11 Barriers to Keeping Housing: Mia 11 Mia, her husband AJ, and their 3 kids had a Section 8 voucher. AJ was listed as the head of household. Mia obtained a restraining order against AJ. AJ asked the housing authority to let him use the voucher to move into a unit by himself Mia asked the housing authority to let her keep the voucher in the interest of her children The housing authority let AJ move with the voucher and terminated Mia s assistance
12 12 Fair Housing Plii Policies that negatively impact domestic violence il survivors may constitute sex discrimination under fair housing laws
13 DV and Fair Housing Laws 13 Fair housing laws apply to most landlords, regardless of whether they are subsidized: Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C et seq. Most states have antidiscrimination laws that mirror the FHA s protections These laws prohibit landlords from discriminating against an applicant or tenant because of sex However, DV survivors are not a protected class under the FHA or most state fair housing laws
14 DV and Fair Housing Laws 14 Advocates have challenged zero tolerance policies, which state that the entire family may be evicted when an act of violence occurs at or near the rental unit Zero tolerance policies have a disparate impact on women, because women constitute the majority of DV victims Advocates have successfully argued that these policies discriminate on the basis of sex
15 Fair Housing: Pre-VAWA Case Example 15 Warren v. Ypsilanti Hous. Comm n (E.D. Mich. 2002) Public housing tenant s ex-boyfriend assaulted her at the unit. Tenant called police to report assault. PHA sought to evict tenant, citing the one-strike provision in its lease. Tenant filed suit against PHA, arguing that its policy of evicting DV victims based on violence against them constituted sex discrimination. Case settled, w/pha agreeing to end its application of the one-strike e rule ue to DV victims. vc
16 16 Excerpt from the complaint filed in Warren, available on ACLU s website
17 Fair Housing: Case Example 2 17 Lewis v. N. End Vill. (E.D. Mich. 2008): A LIHTC tenant s ex-boyfriend kicked in the door of her apartment in violation of a restraining order. Tenant received eviction notice for violating the lease, which stated that she was liable for damage resulting from lack of proper supervision of her guests. Tenant filed suit, arguing that the owner s policy of interpreting the word guest to include those who violate a RO had a disparate impact on women. Case settled, ed, with owner agreeing g to adopt DV policies.
18 18 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Protections against evictions i and subsidy terminations for federally assisted tenants
19 VAWA: Who Is Protected? 19 VAWA covers these categories of housing ONLY: 1. Public housing 2. Section 8 Voucher housing 3. Project-Based Section 8 Housing 4. Supportive housing for the elderly or disabled VAWA covers these categories of victims: 1. A survivor of domestic violence 2. A survivor of dating violence 3. A survivor of stalking * Survivors of sexual assault may be covered
20 VAWA: Admissions & Assistance 20 An individual s status as a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking is not an appropriate p basis for denying him or her housing. What about poor credit, tenancy, or criminal history that is directly related to DV?
21 VAWA: Evictions/Terminations 21 Crimes against a survivor directly relating to DV are not grounds for evicting the survivor or terminating her rental subsidy. Incident of actual or threatened DV does not constitute a serious or repeated lease violation or good cause for evicting the survivor or terminating her rental subsidy. There are limits to these protections.
22 VAWA: Removing the Abuser 22 Public Housing Agency (PHA) or Section 8 landlord may bifurcate a lease to evict a tenant who commits DV while keeping the survivor in place. PHA or landlord must follow federal, state, and local law in evicting the perpetrator Safety planning is essential in these cases PHA may terminate Section 8 assistance to the abuser while preserving assistance to survivor
23 23 State Law Protections A growing number of states and local l jurisdictions are adopting specific housing protections for survivors
24 State & Local Protections for Survivors 24 A growing number of states are enacting housing laws specifically protecting DV survivors because: The landlord-tenant relationship is usually governed by state law FHA doesn t explicitly protect survivors, & the Violence Against Women Act only covers subsidized tenants Local legislative efforts: Ohio: If passed, Sub. H.B. No. 167 would provide a variety of housing protections for survivors Michigan: S.B. 185 would have provided d early lease termination for victims of DV, sexual assault or stalking
25 Examples of state protections 25 Laws that protect survivors housing rights include: Laws that prohibit survivors from being evicted or denied housing because of violence committed against them (AR, DC, IN, NC, RI, WA) Laws that provide a defense to eviction (CO, DC, IA, LA, NM, VA, WA) Early lease termination (AZ, CA, CO, DE, DC, IL, IN, MN, NJ, NY, NC, OR, TX, WA, WI) Right to call police (AZ, CO, DC, MN, TX, WI) Lock changes (AZ, AR, DC, IL, IN, NC, OR, UT, VA, WA)
26 26 Housing Provider Policies i PHAs and some subsidized d owners have started to adopt their own domestic violence policies
27 PHA DV policies 27 Under VAWA, PHAs are required to include a statement re: DV in their annual and 5-year plans Many PHAs have added VAWA s VAWAs language to their Sec 8 admin plans and public housing ACOPs. Some PHAs have included language g that is more specific/more protective than VAWA Ex: public housing transfer policies for victims; admissions policies re: negative history related to DV As a result, it s crucial to examine the PHA s policies
28 28 Excerpt from Lansing Housing Commission domestic violence policy
29 Subsidized owners & DV policies 29 In Notice H 09-15, HUD urged project-based Sec 8 owners to: Update their tenant selection plans or house rules to incorporate VAWA s protections Establish policies that support victims and protect them from losing their HUD-assisted housing as a consequence of DV H i l i b j b d However, implementation by project-based owners has been SLOW.
30 30 Advocacy Strategies What strategies were employed in the five case studies?
31 Basic tools used in DV/housing cases 31 Informal advocacy, i.e., letters and calls to the landlord or housing authority Helping clients get together documents and witnesses for administrative & judicial proceedings Using media to embarrass housing providers Filing administrative complaints (or threatening to) Working with housing providers to improve their policies regarding domestic & sexual violence Affirmative litigation
32 Barriers to Applying for Housing: Jan 32 Jan s attorney contacted the manager by phone and mail and explained that: Before denying Jan s application, the manager had a duty to examine mitigating factors, such as the age of her conviction and her letters of support. It was unlikely that Jan would be involved in another abusive relationship. The criminal i history policy was unreasonable. The manager later offered a unit to Jan.
33 Barriers to Staying Safe: Yolaunda 33 Based on the federal Fair Housing Act, Yolaunda s attorneys filed for a preliminary injunction in federal court to have her immediately transferred to another public housing unit. The case received media coverage. The court denied the motion, but encouraged the PHA to adopt a domestic violence transfer policy. The housing authority amended its public housing policy to include transfers for domestic violence survivors.
34 34 Revised Public Housing Transfer Policy, Cincinnati Metro. Hous. Auth.
35 Barriers to Keeping Housing: Sonya 35 Sonya s attorney raised VAWA and the Fair Housing Act as a defense to the eviction and also filed a motion for summary yjudgment. Sonya provided police reports, her restraining order, and evidence that the city declined to prosecute her for the stabbing. Court found that VAWA prohibited Sonya s eviction. Metro N. Owners v. Thorpe, 870 N.Y.S.2d 768
36 36 The answer Sonya s attorney filed to the eviction complaint
37 37 Metro N. Owners, LLC v. Thorpe, 870 N.Y.S.2d 768
38 Barriers to Keeping Housing: Irene 38 At the eviction hearing, Irene testified that neighbors said they were not disturbed by the incident. Irene also testified that the abuser had moved out. Court held that Irene had not committed a serious violation of the lease: Incident was isolated No evidence that Irene e was a troublesome e tenant Abuser no longer lived on the premises Moundsville Hous. Auth. v. Porter, 370 S.E.2d 341 (W. Va., ( 1988); see also Assoc. Estates Corp. v. Bartell, 492 N.E.2d 841 (Ohio Ct. App. 1985).
39 Barriers to Keeping Housing: Mia 39 Mia s attorney wrote a letter to the housing authority arguing: Termination of Mia s assistance violated VAWA The housing authority failed to follow HUD regulations and its own policies when it assigned the voucher to AJ Mia s attorney requested: An administrative hearing Homeless prevention funds to cover Mia s back rent The housing authority agreed to issue Mia a voucher and homeless assistance
40 40 Sample Demand Letter, Break-Up of Section 8 Voucher Family
41 Takeaway Points 41 This area of the law is rapidly changing There are a variety of advocacy strategies informal advocacy, demand letters, agency complaints, media, working with PHAs and landlords on their policies, and affirmative litigation. Many housing providers, hearing officers, and judges will need to be educated regarding the basics of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
42 Contact Information 42 Meliah Schultzman, (510) NHLP s DV & housing website: NHLP s DV & housing manual:
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