HUD to Review Discrimination Claims from Victims of Domestic Violence
March 2011: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently issued guidance making it clear that residents who are denied or evicted from housing as a result of domestic violence may be able to pursue a discrimination complaint under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA).
HUD acknowledges that while the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects some victims of abuse from housing discrimination, the FHA gives HUD the authority to investigate whether the denial of housing or eviction violates the FHA based on sex or another federally protected basis (race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, or disability).
“People in abusive relationships are not only victims of abuse, but potential victims of housing discrimination,” John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement. “Evicting a domestic violence victim from her home robs her of the one anchor she has in a sea of uncertainty. HUD is committed to using the Fair Housing Act to protect victims of abuse from unlawful denial of access to decent, affordable housing.”
Under the guidance, HUD will review claims of discrimination from victims of domestic violence to determine if there is sufficient evidence to apply the FHA to those complaints. For example, a landlord refusing to accept women with a history of domestic violence because they may return to abusive men may violate the FHA’s ban on gender discrimination. Similarly, a “zero-tolerance” policy for criminal activity, under which an entire household may be evicted for the criminal act of one household member, may have a discriminatory effect (in legal parlance, a “disparate impact”) on women because they are the overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims. Evicting women for the violent acts of their abusers may violate the FHA.
Additionally, the HUD guidance provides examples of recent housing discrimination cases and explains how VAWA protects victims of domestic violence from denial, eviction, and termination from public housing and the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8).
HUD’s Domestic Violence guidance is available at http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/library/11-domestic-violence-memo-with-attachment.pdf.