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COMMUNITY RIGHTS CORNER

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From the Maryland Attorney General's Office ---

COVID-19 has significantly caused a disruption in the civil justice system and has negatively impacted Marylanders.  For over six months, the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force has been working hard to find solutions to critical issues facing individuals and families.  For more information on the comprehensive and dynamic report,visit:

 https://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/A2JC/default.aspx

ASSISTANCE

CENTER FOR FAITH BASED AND NEIGHBORHOOD PARTNERSHIPS

 

 

Your Rights Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA):

How to File a Complaint, Coverage, and Protections

 

 

Overview

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA, 34 U.S.C. § 12471 et seq.) provides housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking (collectively referred to on this page as “VAWA violence/abuse”).[1]  (See 34 U.S.C. § 12291).  Despite the name of the law, VAWA’s protections apply regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity (See 24 C.F.R. § 5.2001).

VAWA was reauthorized and amended in March 2022, and it became effective on October 1, 2022.  As part of that reauthorization, Congress required HUD to implement and enforce the housing provisions of VAWA consistent with, and in a manner that provides, the same rights and remedies as those provided for in the Fair Housing Act.  Therefore, if you believe your VAWA rights have been violated, you may file a complaint with HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). 

This page provides general information about how you can file a complaint, your rights under VAWA and other civil rights laws enforced by HUD, and additional resources.

 

How to File a VAWA Complaint

If you believe your VAWA rights have been violated, you can visit this link to file a complaint with HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).  You can also find out more about the complaint process.  These sites provide information in multiple languages and include instructions for filing a complaint online on HUD’s website and by email, mail, or telephone. 

Note: HUD is currently updating its complaint form to include VAWA protections. However, you may still use the current complaint form to file a VAWA complaint.  On the complaint form, please explain in the narrative section why you believe your VAWA rights were violated.

 

VAWA’s Protections and Coverage

If you are applying for, receiving assistance under, or living in public housing, any housing operated by a public housing authority, voucher programs, homeless assistance programs, federally assisted housing for persons with disabilities or for elderly persons, or any other housing receiving assistance from HUD, you may have housing protections under VAWA.  If you are a tenant in a HUD-funded program, certain VAWA protections may also apply to other residents and persons associated with you, including residents and affiliated individuals.

 

VAWA applies to many different HUD grantees under what are called “covered housing programs.”  (See 34 U.S.C. § 12491(a)(3)).  HUD’s covered housing programs include:

 

  • Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly, including the direct loan program under section 202;

  • Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities;

  • Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program;

  • Homeless programs under title IV of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, including the Emergency Solutions Grants program, the Continuum of Care program, and the Rural Housing Stability Assistance program;

  • HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program;

  • Multifamily rental housing under section 221(d)(3)/(d)(5) of the National Housing Act with a below-market interest rate (BMIR);

  • Multifamily rental housing under section 236 of the National Housing Act;

  • HUD programs assisted under the United States Housing Act of 1937; specifically, public housing under section 6 of the 1937 Act, tenant-based and project-based rental assistance under section 8 of the 1937 Act, and the Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Single Room Occupancy;

  • Housing Trust Fund; and

  • Other Federal housing programs that provide affordable housing to low and moderate-income persons through restricted rents or rental assistance, or other affordable housing opportunities, which HUD identifies as covered by VAWA.  This will ordinarily occur in a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO).
    (See 34 U.S.C. § 12491.)

  •  

VAWA also protects your right to report crime and emergencies from your home, regardless of whether your housing is assisted under a covered housing program. (See 34 U.S.C. § 12495).

 

VAWA’s protections include, for example:

 

  1. Non-discrimination: It is illegal to deny you admission to or assistance under, or to evict you from or terminate your participation in, a covered housing program if you or a member of your household is or has been a survivor of VAWA violence/abuse.  You or a member of your household must be otherwise eligible for the program.  In addition, it is illegal to deny you tenancy or occupancy rights (for example, you cannot be evicted) in a covered housing program solely on the basis of criminal activity directly relating to the VAWA violence/abuse.  HUD refers to these protections as VAWA’s “core” housing protections.  (See 24 C.F.R. § 5.2005(b)).

 

  1. Notification of Occupancy Rights: If you are an applicant or tenant, a covered housing provider must provide to you two HUD-approved documents: (1) Notice of Occupancy Rights under VAWA, and (2) VAWA certification form.  The covered housing provider must provide you these forms at certain specified times.  (See 34 U.S.C. § 12491(d)24 C.F.R. § 5.2005(a)).

 

  1. Emergency Transfers: You can request an emergency transfer for you and your household in a covered housing program if you: (1) expressly request the transfer; and (2)(a) you reasonably believe there is a threat of imminent harm from further violence if you remain in the same unit; or (2)(b) in the case of sexual assault, the sexual assault occurred at your housing during the 90-calendar-day period preceding the date of the transfer request.  Public housing agencies and other covered housing programs must adopt an emergency transfer plan based on a model plan from HUD.  This emergency transfer plan must, among other requirements, allow you to make an internal emergency transfer (to a unit where you would not be categorized as a new applicant) when a safe unit is immediately available.  A safe unit is a unit that you believe is safe.  (See 24 C.F.R. § 5.2005(e)).

 

  1. Confidentiality Requirements: Covered housing providers have specific obligations to maintain the confidentiality of the fact that a person is a survivor of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  Any information you provide under VAWA’s housing protections, including the fact that you are a VAWA survivor, must be kept confidential by the covered housing provider.  These obligations include keeping any such information out of a shared database and not disclosing such information to others unless you consent in writing to such disclosure, it is required for use in an eviction proceeding, or the law otherwise requires it.  If your information is used by a covered housing provider in violation of the confidentiality requirements, you may file a complaint with HUD. (See 34 U.S.C. § 12491(c)(4)24 C.F.R. § 5.2007(c)).

 

  1. Documentation: If you inform a public housing agency or owner or manager of housing assisted under a covered housing program that you are a survivor of VAWA violence/abuse entitled to VAWA protections, the covered housing provider may request, in writing, that you submit documentation of the occurrence of the domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  If your housing provider simply provides a VAWA reporting form to you, without a dated letter requesting documentation, the housing provider has not sufficiently made the request in writing. You have the discretion to choose which documentation to provide from the list identified in HUD’s VAWA rule, unless there is conflicting information of VAWA violence/abuse.[2]  For example, a housing provider may not require a police report to provide VAWA housing protections (but you may choose to provide one).  (See 34 U.S.C. § 12491(c)24 C.F.R. § 5.2007).

 

  1. Lease Bifurcation: VAWA protects you and other members of your household when a covered housing provider removes a household member from a lease, in order to evict, remove, terminate occupancy rights, or terminate assistance to a household member who engages in criminal activity directly relating to VAWA violence/abuse (known as “bifurcating” a lease).  Your housing provider may choose whether to bifurcate the lease, and if it is done, it must be done consistent with applicable federal, state, or local laws and the requirements of your covered housing program.   In the event of a lease bifurcation, if the household member who was removed was the tenant who made your household eligible for assistance under your covered housing program, your housing provider must give those who remain a reasonable time to establish eligibility under the same program, under a different program, or to find other housing.  While this is generally 90 days, it may be a different amount of time, depending on which covered housing program you are participating in. (See 24 C.F.R. § 5.2009). 

 

  1. Prohibition on Retaliation: It is illegal for a public housing agency or an owner or manager of housing assisted under a covered housing program to retaliate against you because you opposed any action they took or practice they have that is prohibited by VAWA.  The housing provider also cannot subject you to retaliation, coercion, intimidation, or threats because you testified, assisted, or participated in an action to enforce your VAWA rights, including encouraging another or exercising your own rights under VAWA.  This includes retaliating against you for filing a complaint with FHEO or another entity, or for participating in an investigation of your own complaint or another complaint by giving information as a witness.  This right applies even if you did not file a complaint over what you believe was the initial violation of VAWA rights or if you filed such a complaint and received a determination that there is no reasonable cause to believe that a VAWA violation occurred or is about to occur.  (See 34 U.S.C. § 12494)

 

  1. The Right to Report Crime and Emergencies from One’s Home: Landlords, homeowners, tenants, residents, occupants, guests of, or applicants for, any housing have the right to seek law enforcement or emergency assistance on their own behalf or on behalf of another person in need of assistance.  They may not be penalized based on their requests for assistance, based on criminal activity for which they are a victim, or based on activity for which they are otherwise not at fault under a law, ordinance, regulation, or policy adopted by or enforced by a governmental entity that receives certain HUD funding.  This means it is unlawful to threaten or subject individuals seeking assistance to any of the following: monetary or criminal penalties, fines, or fees; eviction; refusals to rent or renew tenancy; refusals to issue an occupancy or landlord permit;  withdrawing certifications or permits for operation of the property; and designation of the property as a nuisance or a similar negative designation.  (See 34 U.S.C. § 12495).

 

If you feel these or any other of your VAWA rights have been violated, you may file a complaint with HUD here.

 

Other Housing-Related Civil Rights Laws Enforced by HUD

 

You may file a complaint with FHEO if you believe your VAWA rights have been violated, even if you do not believe you have been discriminated against under other laws, such as the Fair Housing Act.  You may also file a complaint alleging that your rights under multiple laws have been violated.  Read more about the other fair housing laws enforced by FHEO here.

 

Additional Resources

 

 

    • HUD-5380 Notice of Occupancy Rights Under the Violence Against Women Act

    • HUD-5381 Model Emergency Transfer Plan for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking

    • HUD-5382 Certification of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking, and Alternate Documentation

    • HUD-5383 Emergency Transfer Request for Certain Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking

    • HUD-91067 Section 8 VAWA Lease Addendum

    •  

[1] These terms are defined in the VAWA statute at 34 U.S.C. § 12291(a)(12) (domestic violence); 34 U.S.C. § 12291(a)(11) (dating violence); 34 U.S.C. § 12291(a)(35) (sexual assault); and 34 U.S.C. § 12291(a)(36) (stalking). HUD’s VAWA regulations, at 24 C.F.R. part 5, subpart L, are still in effect.  However, the regulations do not reflect recent updates to the VAWA statute, including certain definitions, HUD’s new enforcement authority, the new right to report crime from one’s home, and protections against retaliation for exercising rights under VAWA. 
 

[2] Information may be conflicting when, e.g., certification forms submitted by you and another member of your household each claim to be a victim of VAWA violence/abuse and name each other as the perpetrator.  (See 24 C.F.R. § 5.2005(e)(10).)

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