Many survivors and their children are forced to choose between abuse in the home and life on the streets due to a lack of affordable housing and long waiting lists for government housing assistance. Some survivors are evicted from their homes because their abusers have caused disruption on or damage to properties. In fact, studies have shown that survivors of domestic violence are at a greater risk of eviction than those who have not experienced domestic violence (American Civil Liberties Union, Women’s Rights Project, 2006).
Several jurisdictions have enacted fair housing laws protecting survivors from discrimination in the form of eviction for disturbances stemming from incidences of domestic violence. Many of these laws protect survivors by allowing them to change locks on dwellings to enhance safety from an abusive partner or ex-partner or by permitting early termination of leases without penalty. The 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act included protections for survivors living in federally funded housing. To learn more about state and federal housing laws affecting survivors of domestic violence, please see the State Law Guide, Housing Discrimination for Victims of Domestic or Sexual Violence, from Legal Momentum.
In addition to the many ways discussed below that property owners and landlords can help increase safety and options for survivors, real estate agents can help survivors secure safe and affordable housing. An agent may have the connections necessary to locate donated or free home, office, or warehouse space in the community that can benefit survivors and programs alike.
How can a property manager or landlord help?
1. Maintain a Secure Property
Landlords can help reduce opportunities for a crime to occur, such as domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, by taking basic steps to ensure that their tenants are living in the safest and most secure environment possible. First, landlords should conduct routine surveillance of their properties and surrounding areas to identify potentially unsafe conditions, such as non-working lights in common areas and parking lots, non-working smoke and fire alarms, or broken security gates that surround community property. Once all potentially dangerous conditions are noted, they should be resolved immediately. Additional security features such as peepholes, deadbolts and security alarms should be installed in all individual residences.
2. Post Awareness Materials
Landlords are encouraged to raise awareness of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking by inviting the local victim services program into the housing community to give presentations. Skilled advocates can discuss warning signs for abuse, ways to reduce risk of harm, safety planning and resource information for those seeking help with abuse. Landlords may also provide informational brochures, hang awareness posters or magnets, use coffee mugs and show video PSAs in the leasing office or community clubhouse for residents to privately obtain needed safety information. Displaying awareness materials on healthy relationships may also help those that use violence and abuse in their relationships seek help to change their behavior. The NRCDV’s Domestic Violence Awareness Project, A CALL TO MEN, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs: Home of the Duluth Model andNO MORE offer a variety of awareness raising products and materials.
3. Increase Access to Helping Resources
For landlords that offer use of computers in their leasing offices, this opportunity for tenants to access the Internet during times of crisis, and without fear of being tracked by an abusive partner or ex-partner, is invaluable. The availability of phone lists with emergency contacts, such as police and fire departments, local domestic violence and sexual assault victim services organizations and national hotlines, can be incredibly helpful to those seeking safety from abuse. Landlords should also encourage tenants to report suspected incidents of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to the local police.