HUD Exercises New VAWA Enforcement Authority Against Two Housing Providers
HUD recently announced settlements with housing providers in Nevada and California, resolving allegations that they denied housing opportunities to two women because they experienced dating violence and stalking.
The agreements are the first under HUD’s new enforcement authority under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022 (VAWA 2022), which President Biden signed into law on March 15, 2022. VAWA 2022 enhances housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking applying for and assisted under covered HUD housing programs and certain other federal housing and homeless assistance programs by authorizing HUD to enforce the law by the same process—and with the same rights and remedies—as the Fair Housing Act. Such rights include filing a discrimination complaint with HUD to investigate the allegations.
The conciliation agreements provide monetary damages to the complainants, priority placement on the waiting list for available units, policy changes, staff training, and operational changes. If a respondent housing provider fails to comply with the terms of the agreement, HUD may refer it to the Department of Justice for enforcement.
HUD’s investigation found that a tenant who had a Housing Choice Voucher alleged that a PHA in Nevada and its Housing Specialist violated her rights under VAWA when she requested to relocate mid-lease as an emergency transfer after being stalked by a former partner.
The complainant alleged that the housing provider demanded confusing and contradictory documentation that it wasn’t permitted to request under VAWA, threatened to revoke the complainant’s voucher, denied her request to extend her voucher, and stopped paying its portion of the rent while the complainant prepared to move to protect her safety.
HUD’s investigation indicated that the PHA’s policies and procedures didn’t comply with VAWA, including policies for documenting someone’s status as a VAWA survivor in general and, specifically, when an emergency transfer is requested. The PHA also lacked an emergency transfer plan, as required by VAWA.
The settlement agreement requires the housing provider to adopt and implement policies that comply with VAWA and will protect the VAWA rights of its applicants and residents, including that the PHA has an emergency transfer plan that will allow survivors who qualify to move quickly without losing their assistance, to hire outside experts to provide VAWA training to staff, and to pay the complainant a monetary settlement.
In California, a woman filed a complaint with HUD alleging that a housing management company that receives funds under the HOME Investment Partnerships Program and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and a property manager violated her rights under VAWA by denying her application due to a history of violations of the terms of previous rental agreements that were related to her status as a survivor of dating violence.
Although the housing providers denied that the tenant disclosed her status as a dating violence survivor, they acknowledged that they failed to accompany the denial letter with any information about her rights under VAWA, as required by law, and that they didn’t advise her about how she might appeal the denial.
Under the terms of the agreement, the housing providers will pay the complainant a monetary settlement, place her on the top of the waitlist for the next available unit at two properties, notify her in writing when such a unit becomes available, revise their policies and procedures to comply with VAWA and protect the VAWA rights of applicants and tenants, establish a VAWA Rights Coordinator to handle VAWA matters and compliance, and require their employees to complete VAWA training annually.
VAWA’s Core Protections
The core VAWA housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are the following:
Denial of admissions. An applicant’s status as a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking is not a basis for denial of admission, if the applicant otherwise qualifies for admission.
Termination of tenancy. A resident is protected from being evicted for being a domestic violence survivor. If a resident is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, you can’t evict the resident based on acts or threats of violence committed against him or her. In addition, criminal acts directly related to the domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking that are caused by a member of the resident’s household or a guest can’t be the reason for evicting a resident if the resident was the victim of the abuse.
You can still evict a resident, however, if you can show there is an actual and imminent threat to other tenants or staff if the resident is not evicted. Also, an owner can evict a resident for serious or repeated lease violations that aren’t related to the domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking against the resident.
Lease bifurcation. VAWA allows owners to “bifurcate,” or split a tenancy, so that the abuser is removed from the household, without evicting or penalizing the survivor. In removing the abuser from the household, you must follow federal, state, and local eviction procedures.
Confidentiality requirements. All information provided regarding domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, including the fact that an individual is a victim of such violence or stalking, must be retained in confidence. This means that an owner or manager may not enter the information into any shared database; allow employees or others to access the information unless they are explicitly authorized to do so and have a need to know the information for purposes of their work; or provide the information to any other entity or individual, except to the extent that the disclosure is:
- Requested or consented to by the individual in writing in a time-limited basis;
- Required for use in an eviction proceeding; or
- Otherwise required by applicable law [42 U.S.C.A. §14043e-11(c)(4)(A)-(C)].
Emergency transfers. VAWA requires owners to adopt an emergency transfer plan that gives victims the ability to request an emergency transfer to another safe and available unit. The transfer plan must allow survivor tenants to transfer to another available and safe dwelling unit assisted under a covered housing program if: (1) the tenant expressly requests the transfer; and (2) either the tenant reasonably believes that she is threatened with imminent harm from further violence if she remains within the same assisted dwelling unit, or the tenant is a victim of sexual assault and the sexual assault occurred on the premises within 90 days before the transfer request. In addition, the transfer plan must incorporate reasonable confidentiality measures to ensure that the owner or manager does not disclose the location of the new unit to the abuser.
Written notice. VAWA requires that residents receive a written notice of rights under VAWA upon admission, denial of housing, or notice of eviction/subsidy termination–including notification in non-English languages.