Formal protections against harassment in housing put in place on anniversary of Violence Against Women Act

On the anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Tuesday, the Department of Housing formalized protections against harassment and violence in housing. The agency published a final rule detailing legal standards under the Fair Housing Act specifying how it will handle claims of harassment in private and public housing and confirming local nuisance ordinances that punish tenants for calling 911 (including victims of domestic abuse) are illegal. Since women disproportionately experience domestic violence and sexual and other forms of harassment in housing, these new guidelines will clearly have an impact on women’s housing situations.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was especially excited about the nuisance guideline, as some cities currently punish renters who call 911 by evicting them, meaning victims of harassment or violence could literally be kicked out of their homes for getting the police’s help. Sandra Park, a senior staff attorney with the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU, said in a press release, “Domestic violence victims shouldn’t face the impossible choice of staying silent or risking homelessness because they call 911. HUD is sending a strong message that these local ordinances can be dangerous for vulnerable people who need help, and cities should repeal them.”

The agency cited the case of a Pennsylvania woman who faced eviction after a neighbor called for help when she was stabbed.

A home should be a sanctuary where everyone can live without the threat of violence or harassment,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a press release about the new guidelines. “The actions we take today will work together to protect the housing rights of victims of harassment and survivors of domestic violence.”