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In the wake of recent scandals regarding several prominent athletes in the National Football League (NFL), domestic violence has received an increased amount of attention via the media and public forum discussions. Now, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has entered the conversation, with the settlement of an investigation that showed domestic violence victims were also being victimized by their landlords and their municipal government.
HUD has announced that reached a Conciliation Agreement with the municipality of Norristown, Pa., settling allegations that it violated the Fair Housing Act when it enacted two ordinances that held landlords responsible for evicting tenants cited for "disorderly behavior," including domestic violence incidents, or risk being fined or losing their rental license.
HUD reported that several tenants in Norristown were cited for disorderly behavior that included calls to police for domestic disturbances. In one case, a female tenant was cited for disorderly behavior three times stemming from three instances when her ex-boyfriend forced his way into her unit and assaulted her. The third instance resulted in the tenant being airlifted to the hospital after being stabbed by her ex-boyfriend. Although the tenant's ex-boyfriend was arrested and incarcerated, Norristown officials pressured the woman’s landlord to evict her.
HUD charged Norristown with violating the Fair Housing Act, which makes it unlawful to evict an individual because of sex or familial status, as well as the Violence Against Women Act, which provides legal protections for victims of domestic violence, including protections against eviction in certain cases. Under a settlement that HUD negotiated with the input of the ACLU, Norristown repealed its ordinances, dropped all potential actions against survivors of domestic violence, and paid $495,000 toward a named victim. The municipal government must also work with a local domestic violence advocacy group to develop and promote an annual community service day or other activity to raise awareness of domestic violence.
“It's discriminatory to deny housing to a woman for violence committed against her,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD's assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity. “To face discrimination, on top of domestic violence, only compounds the injustice. The Department will continue to educate municipalities about their responsibility to uphold laws that protect the housing rights of survivors of domestic violence.”