On February 28, 2013, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed the House of Representatives after already having been approved by the Senate. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature, which is certain.
Title VI, Section 601 of the Act outlines the Housing Protections provided by the legislation, and I will highlight those protections here.
The following programs will now be covered by VAWA (the list of programs has been significantly expanded:
- Section 202
- Section 811
- Housing provided under the Cranston-Gonzalez Affordable Housing Act
- McKinney-Vento Homeless Program
- Section 221(d) Insurance Programs
- Section 236
- Section 6 and Section 8
- Rural Housing Programs
- Low-Income Housing Tax Credit
An applicant or resident participating in any of these programs may not be denied assistance, terminated from, or evicted from housing because they have been or are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. This applies even if the person committing the violence of doing the stalking is a member of the household.
Leases under covered programs may be bifurcated in order to evict, remove, or terminate assistance to any individual who engages in criminal activity relating to domestic violence, without evicting the victim of the domestic violence. If the evicted tenant is the sole tenant eligible to receive assistance, the victim shall be given the opportunity to qualify. If they do not qualify, they will be given a reasonable time, as determined by the appropriate agency, to find new housing or establish eligibility.
Victims of domestic violence may be evicted for lease violations not associated with of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. In other words, such victims have no special protections or privileges except those relating to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
Request for Documentation
If a person represents that they are entitled to protection under this section of the law, the property owner may request, in writing, that the applicant or tenant submit documentation within 14 days after receiving the written request for documentation, a certification that –
- States that the applicant or tenant is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
- States that the incident of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking meets the definition of domestic violence under this law; and
- Includes the name of the person who committed the domestic violence if the name is know and safe to provide.
This document must be signed by an employee, agent, or volunteer of a victim service provider, an attorney, a medical professional, or a mental health professional from whom the victim has sought assistance relating to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. The document must state under penalty of perjury that the professional signing the statement believes that the incident meets the requirements of the VAWA. The document must also be signed by the applicant or tenant.
The document may also be a record of a Federal, state, tribal or local law enforcement agency, court, or administrative agency, or at the discretion of the agency or owner, a statement or other evidence provided by the applicant or tenant.
All information provided by a potential victim must be kept in confidence and may not be entered into any shared database or disclosed to any entity or individual unless the disclosure is
- Requested or consented to by the individual in writing;
- Required as part of an eviction proceeding; or
- Otherwise required by law.
If an owner receives conflicting information, they may require third party documentation. Also, the VAWA is preempted by any Federal, state or local law that is more stringent.
The Secretary of HUD will develop a Notice of the rights of individuals under this law, including the right to confidentiality. Once this notice is available, owners will be required to provide such notice to applicants for covered housing, when an applicant is
- Denied housing;
- Admitted to housing;
- Notified of eviction or assistance termination; and
- The notice must be in multiple languages, consistent with the requirements of the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Regulations (these regulations do not apply to the LIHTC program at this time).
Agencies will develop emergency transfer plans for use by owners that
- Allow tenants who are victims to transfer to another available and safe dwelling unit if –
- The tenant requests the transfer; and
- The tenant believes that they are threatened with imminent harm if they remain in the same dwelling unit; or
- If the tenant was a victim of sexual assault, the assault occurred on the premises within 90-days of the transfer request; and
- Incorporates confidentiality measures ensuring that the location of the new unit is not disclosed to the person who committed the act of violence.
While this law will be in place when signed by the President, additional guidance is needed from the applicable agencies in order to fully implement the requirements of the statute. HUD already has guidance in place for Section 8 properties, and those properties should continue to follow the requirements of VAWA as they have in the past, pending new guidance from HUD.
As for LIHTC properties, this is a brand new requirement. Guidance will be required in a number of areas, including:
- When tenants are evicted due to the commission of a crime covered by this law, and they were the sole qualifying tenant, what steps will be taken to qualify the victim (the remaining resident)? This could occur in a tax credit property if the abuser was the original tenant, got married, and the wife joined the unit. She would be added as a new member, but would have to qualify on her own in the event the husband was removed from the unit. If she did not qualify (due to income, student status, etc.), what would be an appropriate time to allow her to find additional housing?
- Agencies must develop an Emergency Transfer Plan; will this be done by the IRS or State HFAs?
These, and a number of other issues will have to be worked out before the law can be fully implemented at LIHTC properties.