Identifying Housing Discrimination Based on Domestic Violence

We recently published a blog on domestic violence and its connection to fair housing. It focused on the Fair Housing Act, its role and relation to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, potential housing discrimination against survivors of such, HUD guidelines, and actions to take to achieve fair housing, among other topics.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and we at CAFHC believe it is important to continue diving into this topic. The following are examples of and actions to mitigate fair housing discrimination based on domestic violence.

A Quick Recap on Domestic and Sex Violence

When it comes to housing – buying, renting, and/or leasing – both domestic violence and sex discrimination occur when a property owner or landlord treats the buyer or renter differently because they have been exposed to issues related to domestic disputes. Even if the owner does not intend for a policy to treat the buyer or renter differently, policies that have a discriminatory effect on the individual for issues concerning a past history of either domestic violence or sex discrimination might also violate the law (and there are a few laws, including the HUD guidance on nuisance abatement and HUD’s Final Harassment Rule).

Both intentions and effects matter in determining whether a property owner’s actions are discriminatory and illegal.

Examples of Housing Discrimination Based on DV and Sex

Is it housing discrimination if…

A landlord, property owner, or public housing authority learns that you have experienced domestic violence or sexual misconduct in the past and rejects your application/offer for tenancy as a result. Why would the landlord do this? Sometimes landlords believe that they can ensure safety on their properties by keeping domestic violence survivors out. They might claim a “zero tolerance” or “one strike” policy that permits the eviction/denial of a tenant if criminal activity has occurred in his/her home.

…Yes. It is.

Is it housing discrimination if…

Your landlord or a public housing authority terminates your housing voucher because you have called the police to your home for protection from domestic violence. Again, they might claim a “zero tolerance” policy and the fact that the actions prove an unsafe environment due to the need(s) for police presence.

…Yes. It is.

Is it housing discrimination if…

You notice that your landlord suddenly applies rules to you that are not applied to other tenants after the landlord learns that you are in an abusive relationship.

…Yes. It is.

These are just a few examples. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Do not be afraid to speak up, ask for help, obtain legal assistance, and/or fight for your rights. Though it doesn’t always happen, unfortunately, it goes without saying that victims of domestic violence and sex crimes DO deserve the same housing rights as any other human being.

Protecting Your Rights Under the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act makes it possible for any “aggrieved person” to complain about housing discrimination. This includes anyone who has already been injured by discrimination or someone who believes that he or she is about to be impacted by a threatened discriminatory act. Those who fall into either of those categories might proceed in one of the following ways:

1. File a Property Complaint

Landlords and public housing authorities should have a standard procedure to follow when filing a complaint or grievance. Other types of housing might (or might not) have their own standard forms or procedures. No matter what, be sure to file a complaint as appropriate in writing. Raising the issue with your landlord should almost always be your first course of action. If the complaint is not dealt with properly, the individual might then turn to legal, more straight-on action.

2. File a HUD Complaint

Individuals can file a complaint with their HUD regional office within one year of the date the discriminatory act occurred. Alternatively, you may be able to file a complaint with your state fair housing agency. Individuals are able to file a complaint directly on the CAFC website, for example.

Within 100 days, HUD is supposed to complete its investigation, free of charge. If HUD finds “reasonable cause” to believe that discrimination has occurred, the agency will bring the case before an administrative law judge, or you can choose to have the Department of Justice take your case to court. To be connected to your HUD regional office, call (800) 669-9777, or visit www.hud.gov to file a complaint online.

3. Bring suit in court

All persons have the right to file a case in federal or state court under the Fair Housing Act without first going to HUD. If you decide to sue under the Fair Housing Act, you must do so within two years of the discrimination.

Reach Out

At the Central Alabama Fair Housing Council, we offer both legal assistance and ongoing education and outreach to promote a better understanding of fair housing rights and to eliminate housing discrimination through enforcing the federal FHA and other laws. To learn more, please visit us online or contact us at (334) 263-4663.

In addition, anyone who believes she or he has experienced discrimination in housing may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777. Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed by going to www.hud.gov/fairhousing, or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination app.