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Information for Victims of Abuse in Federal Public Housing

  • Have you been a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking?
  • Do you live in federally funded public housing?
  • Find out how a new law can protect you against eviction and housing discrimination.

What is the new law?

The new law is called the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA.

VAWA protects victims of domestic violence who live in federally funded public housing. If you are facing domestic abuse, VAWA can protect you from eviction and housing discrimination.

How do I know if I live in public housing?

If your landlord is a housing authority, you live in public housing. If your public housing is funded by the federal government, everyone in your household is protected by VAWA. To find out if your housing is federally funded, ask housing authority staff.

State public housing tenants are not covered by VAWA. But people are working to pass a law to protect state public housing tenants, too. For more information, contact Greater Boston Legal Services at 617-371-1234.

How does VAWA protect me?

VAWA means that a housing authority can not refuse to rent to you just because you are or were a victim of abuse.

VAWA means that you can not be evicted from public housing just because of your abuser or your abuser’s actions.

If you and your abuser live together, the housing authority can evict your abuser for his or her acts of abuse, but you must be allowed to stay. Acts of abuse include domestic violence, threats, dating violence or stalking.

Can I be evicted for violating my lease?

Under VAWA, a housing authority can not evict you for violating your lease because you are a victim of abuse.

It also can not evict you for criminal activity related to domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.

But, a housing authority could evict you for serious or repeated lease violations that are unrelated to domestic abuse.

What can the housing authority do?

A housing authority can evict you if it can prove that other tenants or staff are in actual and imminent (immediate) danger that cannot be addressed by security or other steps. If the housing authority can prove this, you could be evicted even if you are a victim of domestic abuse.

But without proven danger, the housing authority can not evict you or penalize you in any way.

Also, the housing authority can not hold you to a more demanding set of rules than it uses for tenants who are not victims of abuse. 

How can I claim my rights under VAWA?

A housing authority can ask for proof that you are a victim of abuse. If you want the protections that VAWA provides, you may have to prove to the housing authority that you are a victim of abuse.  

How do I prove that I am a victim of abuse?

The housing authority must accept any one of these documents as proof that you are a victim of abuse:

Or

  • A written statement signed by a victim services provider, medical professional, or an attorney saying that the acts in question were acts of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking against you. You must also sign the statement.

Or

  • A police record that says you were a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.

Or

  • A court record (for example, a restraining order, an affidavit filed in a court case, or an order from the Probate and Family Court) that says you were a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.

How long do I have to submit proof?

If the housing authority asks you for proof that you are a victim of abuse, you must submit it within 14 business days (this does not include weekends).

Is information I give to the housing authority confidential?

Yes. The housing authority must keep any information you provide about the violence against you confidential.

But sometimes the housing authority may use this information. It can use this information only in the following situations:

  • If you give permission for the housing authority to share this information.
  • If it needs it in an eviction proceeding (for example, to evict your abuser).
  • If a court orders the housing authority to disclose information. 

Where can I go for help?

If you think that you are being unfairly evicted or discriminated against because you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking, call your local legal services office.

If you need emergency safety assistance or advice, call Safelink at 1-877-785-2020 or your local domestic violence shelter

Safelink is a statewide 24-hour hotline operated by Casa Myrna Vazquez, Inc. in Boston. Call for crisis intervention, support, and access to emergency shelter.

Produced by Greater Boston Legal Services
Created October, 2007

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