Apartment Living BlogFair Housing › Fair Housing Expert: Domestic Violence Guidance for Apartment Managers

Kathi Williams, co-founder and Director of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.

 

Dear Fair Housing Expert,

 

We recently had an incident between husband and wife residents who were in a heated argument that escalated to a physical altercation. This is not the first time and it’s becoming a pattern. What fair housing laws and other rights apply to the victim, the perpetrator and property managers like myself? 

 

-Concerned

 

Dear Concerned,

 

Yes, this is a stressful and alarming position to be in. Domestic violence situations in an apartment community may require the housing provider to take specific actions to protect the housing rights of a resident who is the victim of domestic violence. This is an extremely complicated subject, and in this column, we only have space to provide a very general overview of this topic.

 

Victims Have the Right to Stay in Apartment

Domestic violence victims may have housing rights pursuant to the Violence Against Women Act, the federal Fair Housing Act, and the fair housing laws of many states and localities which have added victims of domestic violence as a protected category. The basic premise of these laws is that victims of domestic violence should not be denied housing because of the violence perpetrated against them. The most common example is when a housing provider sends a notice of termination to a household due to complaints about noise resulting from the household due to constant fighting, screaming, throwing objects, and being the subject of police visits to the property. The rights of the victim arises only after the victim responds to a termination notice by informing the housing provider that she is the victim of domestic violence and wants to remain in the apartment.  In many cases, the housing provider has a legal obligation to allow the victim to stay.

 

If the apartment community is federally funded, or has low income tax credits, or the resident is a Section 8 voucher holder, the housing provider must provide VAWA rights to the victim of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual abuse. For purposes of brevity in this column, these four crimes will be collectively referenced as “domestic violence.” VAWA rights are to be provided to whoever is the victim of domestic violence whether male or female. Any resident who self-certifies that he or she is a victim of domestic violence should be provided the opportunity to remain as a resident in the apartment, while the perpetrator (if on the lease) should be terminated through a process known as bifurcation.

 

Offer Relocation Assistance to Safe Apartment (“Emergency Transfer”)

In addition, after a resident identifies himself or herself as a victim of domestic violence, if the resident reasonably believes he or she is in imminent danger, the housing provider is required to help the victim relocate to a safe and available apartment in a process known as “emergency transfer.” There are specific procedures, policies, and forms that should be applied in these situations, and these are explained in HUD Notice H2027-05 (June 30, 2017).

 

Liability Risks for Denying Housing to Female Victims

While federally funded and tax credit properties have specific forms and procedures to follow, private market housing providers also risk liability for refusing to provide housing rights to victims of domestic violence. HUD has warned that terminating a female resident due to the domestic violence perpetrated against her by another household member or visitor can be the basis of a Fair Housing Act complaint asserting housing discrimination based on gender. This Fair Housing Act violation is based upon the theory that terminating victims of domestic violence has a disparate impact against females, since women are the victims in domestic violence situations in more than 80% of such documented incidents.  

 

Victims that Call for Police Protection Cannot Be Penalized

These situations are complicated and distressing for any housing provider whose apartment is the setting for violence between household members or visitors. It is important to understand your obligations in these volatile situations, including whether you should provide housing rights to household members who are the victims of domestic violence. The determination of the appropriate actions will depend on which law(s) applies including whether you should terminate the lease of the perpetrator of domestic violence pursuant to your state’s landlord tenant laws. To avoid liability, do not automatically terminate the lease of a resident who called the police for protection. It is important that victims of domestic violence do not risk losing their housing because they attempted to protect themselves from violent perpetrators.

 

Also, be cautious about complying with local ordinances requiring housing providers to automatically remove residents who call the police for protection against a perpetrator of domestic violence. These kinds of actions can result in a housing provider facing legal liability under one or more of the laws protecting victims of domestic violence. As with any complicated legal matter, it is wise to use the services of an attorney to advise you as you address the many issues that arise in situations of domestic violence.

Kathi Williams

About

Kathelene "Kathi" Williams is a co-founder and Director of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc. a full-service training and consulting firm and is a partner in the law firm of Williams & Edelstein, P.C. of Norcross, GA. Representing housing industry clients from throughout the country, Kathi provides fair housing training to associations, companies, and government entities and contributes to numerous housing industry publications. Kathi graduated from Indiana University Law School and participated in the Law Review and Board of Barristers.

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