The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released a report on federal housing protections for domestic violence survivors, There's No Place Like Home, on March 4.
In its report, the Law Center analyzes state laws on housing protections for survivors of abuse. The authors note that domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness and that “in some areas of the country 1 in 4 homeless adults reported that domestic violence was a cause of their homelessness.”
The newly reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) strengthened housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, by expanding the federal housing programs covered by VAWA, and made several other changes to improve the housing provisions of the law (see Memo, 3/1). There are no VAWA housing protections for survivors who live in private housing.
The authors note trends in the types of laws that have been enacted to address the housing needs of survivors. According to the authors, 80% of states have enacted laws to allow courts to exclude the perpetrator of domestic or sexual violence from a shared residence, irrespective of whose name is on the least. Seventy-six percent of states have laws that protect the confidentiality of a survivor’s housing records. On the other end of the spectrum, only 4% of states have laws to provide survivors with the right to leave work to seek safe housing.
The Law Center makes a number of policy recommendations in the report. Among the recommendations, the Law Center suggests that advocates work to enact state laws that:
- Proscribe specific activities that constitute discrimination against survivors in the housing context such as denying a survivor from renewing their lease, increasing rent, and retaliating against the tenant based on her status as a survivor of domestic violence.
- Prohibit lease agreements from including provisions that allow the tenant to waive her right to call for emergency assistance.
- Provide to tenants various methods of certifying that they are survivors of domestic or sexual violence for purposes of early lease termination such as through attestation from a third party.
- Require landlords the authority, at the request of the survivor, to terminate the lease of the perpetrator of domestic or sexual violence while allowing the survivor and other non-perpetrator tenants to remain on the lease.
- Permit a landlord to recover for unpaid rent and other damages against a perpetrator for damages arising out of domestic or sexual violence.
- Create a private cause of action based on the applicable state law against landlords who violate the particular housing protections afforded to survivors of domestic or sexual violence, and permit the survivor to recover damages against the landlord for such violations.
- Grant survivors the authority to install new locks on their residence if the landlord fails to do so within 24 hours after the tenant’s request.
- Create an address confidentiality program where the state attorney general or other administrator will provide the survivor with a designated address to protect the privacy of the survivor’s actual address, and provide exemptions from supplying personal identifying information for public records requirements.
- Mandate that public housing agencies compile and report on terminations of domestic or sexual violence survivors.
- Require employers to provide employees with the ability to take leave from work, due to domestic or sexual violence, in order to relocate or improve the security of their residence.