Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Domestic Violence Victims’ Rights in Managed Properties
Note: The following contains information and statistics about domestic violence and assault.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As a real estate investor or property manager, you should know your rights and responsibilities to protect victims of domestic violence on your properties.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.” The NCADV says that any physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological abuse qualifies as domestic violence. The severity and frequency vary from one situation to the next.
As a property manager, how can you recognize domestic violence situations, what role can you play to protect tenants, and what are your responsibilities and the victims’ rights under the law?
Domestic Violence Statistics in America
According to an NCADV report, some 20 Americans experience domestic violence every minute in America. That equates to more than 10 million victims annually, including men, women, and children.
1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men report experiencing “severe domestic violence,” including physical or sexual assault by an intimate partner.
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men report experiencing some form of physical violence in a relationship, though not all of these situations can be classified as domestic violence.
1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by a domestic partner.
Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime nationwide.
Domestic violence happens in all communities, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, sexual orientation, or religion. Domestic violence can have lasting consequences, often spilling over to future generations, creating a cycle of abuse.
The National Violence Against Women Act (1994)
In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the first legislation to make domestic violence and sexual assault illegal on a national level. The VAWA also allocated resources to help communities educate, recognize, and help victims of domestic violence. The law includes protections against dating violence and stalking, which had previously been overlooked by national legislation.
What Property Managers Should Know About Domestic Violence
Property managers should know that domestic violence is more widespread than most people think. There’s a decent chance you’ll encounter a domestic violence situation with your tenants someday, so you should know your responsibilities under the law.
The Violence Against Women Act outlines responsibilities and regulations for landlords whose tenants are either victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. While many states follow federal laws, you should check your state’s statutes to ensure compliance with all local regulations.
According to the VAWA, landlords are not allowed to deny housing to anyone solely because they currently are or have been a victim of domestic violence or stalking.
Confidentiality Considerations for Landlords and Property Managers
If a tenant is being abused and is in immediate danger, you have every right to call the local authorities.
However, if the situation occurred in the past, encourage your tenant to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline to get help. Many state laws require landlords, property managers, and property owners to keep confidential information private. If a tenant tells you they are a victim of domestic violence, you may not share that information without the tenant’s written consent. Breaking confidentiality isn’t just illegal; it may put your tenant at further risk of violence.
If Your Tenant is the Abused Victim
Landlords can and should take steps to protect their tenants from domestic violence where possible. Keeping confidentiality requirements in mind, you’ll want to have some sort of proof that your tenant is being abused, such as a court order or letter from a trusted professional.
In many jurisdictions, if the tenant can prove domestic violence, the victim has a right to:
Break the lease agreement and move to a new location.
Ask the landlord to change all locks on the property.
Request police presence when they move out of a property.
Each state’s laws are different, so check the statutes in your jurisdiction. In some states, the landlord may have the right to evict a tenant who is the victim of domestic violence. For instance, California law allows a landlord to evict a tenant who allows the domestic violence perpetrator to continually visit the property, and the perpetrator poses a threat to other tenants on the property. However, other states such as Virginia, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Washington prohibit landlords from terminating a lease agreement with victims of domestic violence.
If Your Tenant is the Abuser
It’s not always easy to identify an abuser, but if you receive indisputable evidence that a tenant is a perpetrator of domestic violence, you have the right to evict that person from your property. Thanks to the Violence Against Women Act, if the perpetrator and the victim are both on the lease, you have the right to evict the abuser and allow the victim to stay. The process of removing only the abuser is called bifurcation and is outlined the in VAWA.
You can also check your state and local laws regarding domestic violence perpetrators, but many states allow property owners and managers to take the following actions:
Evict the abuser from the property.
File a restraining order against the abuser to ensure they do not return to the property.
Distribute information about domestic violence to other tenants.
Section 8 and Domestic Violence Regulations
Landlords and property managers of Section 8 housing must follow federal housing laws. Therefore, a Section 8 tenant in any state has the right to terminate a lease if domestic violence threatens their safety or the safety of others in the household.
Tenants who break their lease due to domestic violence will retain their Section 8 benefits in the future.
Resources for Domestic Violence Victims
If you or someone you know is being abused, reach out for help.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
State-Specific Domestic Violence Resources
National Dating Abuse Helpline
National Sexual Assault Hotline
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
www.nrcdv.org and www.vawnet.org
Futures Without Violence: The National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence