Senior Attorney, Shriver Center
May 4, 2010
Congress and several states take actions to stop evictions of victims of violence
For women and children in this country, domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness. Survivors of domestic violence (of which 90 to 95% are women), dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking living in rental housing are particularly vulnerable to homelessness because they are often threatened with eviction after an incident of violence. These evictions are frequently born out of property owners’ stereotypes about survivors of violence as individuals accountable for the acts of their abusers. Indeed, up until a few years ago, when victims of violence who lived in federally-assisted low-income housing called the police to report intruders, being shot, or otherwise terrorized by their abusers, they would immediately receive an eviction notice.
In 2005, Congress adopted federal protections against evictions and denial of housing for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. The 2005 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act prohibits evictions and admission denials of victims of violence who live certain types of federally-supported low-income housing. The 2011VAWA reauthorization should improve upon VAWA 2005 and expand it to cover other types of federal supported low-income housing. Any reauthorization must also extend those protections to survivors of sexual assault.
On April 27 the Illinois Legislature passed Bill 5523 and joined several other states, including Indiana, Colorado, Arkansas, Delaware, Texas and Virginia in protecting victims of violence from evictions based upon incidents of violence and/or their status as a victim of violence. Maryland has recently passed a similar bill. The governors of those states should sign the bills immediately.
However, property owners are not the only ones threatening survivors’ housing. A growing number of municipalities have adopted aggressive property nuisance codes or “crime free” rental housing ordinances that obligate owners, under threat of losing their license to operate rental property, to evict all tenants when there is a crime or multiple police calls for assistance. Two of several Illinois municipalities include Schaumburg and Round Lake Heights. To limit a survivor’s access to police assistance under threat of homelessness or to blame them for the crime committed against them likely violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution and Federal Fair Housing Act. While we support the idea of improving the quality and safety of rental housing, municipal actions cannot interfere with a survivor’s safety or hold them accountable for a perpetrator’s actions. Municipalities should amend these ordinances to eliminate these harmful and likely illegal provisions.