PROTECTIONS FOR SURVIVORS UNDER DC HOUSING LAW
INFORMATION PROVIDED BY KATHY ZEISEL,
NATIONAL LAW CENTER ON HOMELESSNESS AND POVERTY
What Laws Specifically Protect Housing Rights for Victims of
Intrafamilial Offenses in the District?
In 2005, the federal Violence Against Women Act was amended to create housing protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking who reside in public and Section 8 housing. The law prevents victims from discriminatory denial of housing or evictions from housing. The Fair Housing Act may also provide additional protections on the federal level.
In 2006, D.C. passed the D.C. Protection from Discriminatory Evictions for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendment Act, which amended several D.C. laws to create new housing protections for victims of intrafamilial violence. These protections include: early lease termination, lease bifurcation, protection for calling the police, lock changes and protection from discriminatory denials and evictions. The law went into effect in March of 2007. This law applies to all housing in the District–public and private.
What is Domestic Violence in the District?
For purposes of the D.C. law, domestic violence is defined as an intrafamily offense. An intrafamily offense includes certain acts punishable as criminal offenses, and are committed against someone with one of the following relationships with the perpetrator:
- related by blood, legal custody, marriage, domestic partnership, having a child in common, or with whom the offender shares or has shared a mutual residence
- maintained or maintains a romantic relationship, not necessarily including a sexual relationship;
- who was or is married to, a domestic partner of, divorced or separated from, or in a romantic relationship, not necessarily including a sexual relationship, with a person who was or is married to, a domestic partner of, divorced or separated from, or in a romantic relationship, not necessarily including a sexual relationship, with the offender
- had been or is being stalked by the offender.
Additionally, the victim must reside in D.C. or the intrafamily offense (criminal act) must have occurred in D.C.
Who is Protected by the D.C. Law?
Anyone is a victim themselves under the law or the parent or legal guardian of a minor victim.
How do the Eviction Protections Work?
The law creates two types of defenses, an absolute and a limited defense, to an eviction that is based on the domestic violence. The eviction could be directly because of an incident or for a less direct reason that is still ultimately because of the violence. For instance, evictions based on damages to the apartment from the domestic violence, noise from an incident or police presence would all be protected under the law.
- Absolute Defense: Where the victim has a temporary or civil protection order ordering the respondent to vacate the home, the judge may not evict the victim.
- Limited Defense: Where the victim does not have a protective order, but can provide the court with a copy of a police report filed within the preceding 60 days or has filed for but nor received a protective order ordering the respondent to leave vacate the home, then the court MAY (but is not required to) stop the eviction.
How Can a Victim Break His or Her Lease Early to Flee the Violence?
A victim may provide the housing provider with a copy of the CPO/TPO or a letter signed by a qualified third party documenting the abuse within 90 days of the incident of domestic violence that is documented.
D.C. law provides for the following qualified third parties:
- Law enforcement officers
- Domestic Violence counselors
- Health professionals
- D.C. Housing Authority Public Safety Officers
The housing provider must release the victim from the rental agreement/lease within 14 days or when a new tenant rents the unit, whichever comes first. The housing provider cannot keep the security deposit simply because the tenant broke the lease. The security deposit must be returned within 45 days if there are no deductions. The housing provider must notify the tenant in writing if they intent to apply money towards damages within 45 days and then must refund the balance of the deposit within 30 days from the date of written notification to the tenant and must also provide an itemized statement of repair costs.
The tenant must still pay the pro-rated rent for the 14 days or when the new tenant rents the unit, whichever comes first. The tenant is still liable for damages to the apartment, even if they were caused by the domestic violence. These damages may be taken from the security deposit. Certain costs may be compensable by the Crime Victim’s Compensation Board if the damages were the result of the domestic violence.
See D.C. Code § 42-3505.07
How Can a Tenant Get Their Locks Changed for Safety Reasons?
If the victim lives/lived with the batterer at the current residence when the violence occurred, then the victim must a written request to change the locks and copy of a CPO/TPO to the housing provider.
If the victim does not live/did not live with the batterer at the current residence with the violence occurred, then the victim must provide a written request to change the locks to the housing provider, but no other documentation is required (no CPO/TPO is required).
The housing provider then has 5 business days to change the locks. The housing provider must pay for the lock change, but then may seek reimbursement from the tenant by providing tenant with written documentation of the lock change costs. The tenant must reimburse the housing provider within 45 days of receiving documentation of the costs. The housing provider may not charge more to change the locks for a victim than they would for any other lock change.
The housing provider is prohibited, unless there is a court order, from giving a copy of the new key to the batterer or otherwise allowing the batterer to have access to the unit, even if the batterer’s name is on the lease.
See D.C. Code § 42-3505.08
How are Victims of Domestic Violence Protected from Discrimination in Housing?
The Act amends the Human Rights Act of 1977 to add status as a victim of an intrafamily offense in the housing discrimination provisions. The Act adds victims of an intrafamily offense to the list of generally protected classes.
See D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01.
Victims of intrafamily offenses are protected from real estate discrimination generally. A housing provider or owner may not refuse to rent or to sell on the basis of status as a victim of domestic violence.
See D.C. Code §§ 2-1402.21(a).
If a victim provides a record of the domestic violence from a law enforcement officer or in the form of a protective order to the housing provider, then the Act also prohibits:
- Refusal to make reasonable accommodations in restoring or improving security and safety measures beyond the housing provider’s ordinary duty of care and diligence. The costs of these accommodations may be charged to the tenant, but the provider may not forbid them.
- Refusing to permit a person to terminate the lease of the premises early and without penalty pursuant to law.
- Restricting a victim’s ability to call the police or emergency services
- Penalizing a victim for calling police or emergency services.
What Remedies Does a Victim Have who Has Been Discriminated Against in Violation of the Human Rights Act?
A victim may file a complaint with the D.C. Human Rights Commission. The Commission has the authority to review the complaint and, if necessary, refer it to the Office of Corporation Counsel for future action.
See D.C. Code §§ 2-1411.03(f)
Please note that this publication will focus on the D.C. law. For more information on the federal law and for a Q&A on that topic, please see www.nlchp.org .