Q&A: Requesting Documentation of Domestic Abuse Under VAWA

Q: I manage rental properties that participate in HUD programs. A tenant claims her boyfriend is abusing her and asked me to transfer her to a different unit at one of our other properties. I know that under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), federally assisted properties like mine are required to allow victims of domestic violence to transfer to another available unit on an emergency basis. But I have only the tenant’s word that she has been abused. What kind of proof am I allowed to request before I take action?

A: Under VAWA, housing providers that participate in HUD, RD, and Low Income Housing Tax Credit programs are not allowed to require “proof” of abuse, but they are allowed to require documentation, says affordable housing consultant Gwen Volk, president of Gwen Volk INFOCUS, Inc.

“Documentation can be in the form of the victim simply filling out HUD form 5382, where the tenant states that she is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. You are not allowed to make tenants provide third-party verification of the abuse,” says Volk. “It is their choice whether to provide the completed form 5382 or to provide one of the other documents listed on the 5382 form. The only time you can require third-party proof, such as a police report, is if their claims are disputed by the other party—that is, the abuser.”

In the situation you describe, if this is your company policy, you can require the tenant to complete HUD form 5383 Emergency Transfer Request form, but you can’t request or require third-party verification. You can, however, stipulate that the form be returned before you transfer her. 

Here’s a table, provided by Volk, summarizing what kind of documentation you’re allowed to request when a tenant invokes her rights under the VAWA:


VAWA Protection


Time tenant has to provide

Tenant or applicant invokes rights

Tenant’s choice from HUD list (Certification form 5382 is considered documentation)

14 business days from receipt of owner’s written request

Tenants invoke rights—conflicting claims

Owner can require third-party verification to resolve the disagreement

30 calendar days from date of owner’s written request

Tenant requests emergency transfer

Owner can require tenant to complete the Emergency Transfer Request form. Owner cannot request or require third-party verification.

Owner can stipulate that request form be returned before a transfer occurs.


For more information on this topic, see “Dealing with Domestic Violence: How to Avoid Fair Housing and Other Legal Traps,” available to subscribers here.