- Have you been a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking?
- Do you have a Section 8 housing voucher?
- 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 have a Section 8 housing voucher. If you or any members of your household are facing domestic abuse, VAWA can protect you from eviction and housing discrimination.
People are also working to pass a law to protect all tenants in Massachusetts, too. For more information, contact Greater Boston Legal Services at 617-371-1234.
How do I know if I have a Section 8 housing voucher?
The Section 8 Housing Voucher Program is a federal program that helps people with low income pay rent to a private landlord. While you have a lease between you and your landlord, you also have a contract with a housing agency (such as a housing authority). The housing agency pays part of your rent and “administers” the voucher.
If you want to or need to move, you can use the voucher to pay a new landlord. The voucher moves with you.
How does VAWA protect me?
VAWA means that a landlord can not refuse to rent to you just because you are or were a victim of abuse.
VAWA also means that you can not be evicted from your apartment just because of your abuser or your abuser’s actions. If you and your abuser live together, the landlord 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 landlord 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 landlord could evict you for serious or repeated lease violations that are unrelated to domestic abuse.
When can a landlord evict me?
With a Section 8 voucher, your landlord needs to have “good cause” to evict you. VAWA says that your abuser’s acts or threats of violence or stalking can not be “good cause” to evict you.
Your landlord can evict you if he or she 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 landlord can prove this, you could be evicted even if you are a victim of domestic abuse.
But without proven danger, the landlord can not evict you or penalize you in any way.
Also, a landlord can not hold you to a more demanding set of rules than it uses for tenants who are not victims of abuse.
Can I lose my voucher?
No. Your Section 8 voucher can not be taken back (or terminated) because of your abuser’s acts, or threats, or criminal activity relating directly to the abuse.
If you and your abuser share a Section 8 voucher, your abuser can be removed from the voucher. You should see your Section 8 worker at the housing authority to ask about removing the abuser from your lease. As long you still qualify for the voucher, you will not lose it because you are or were being abused.
Can I still use my voucher if I move?
Yes. You may move out of your apartment and break your lease if you think that staying in your apartment means that you or household members are in danger.
If you move out for safety reasons, you do not have to give a landlord the required 30-days notice that you are leaving. You may obtain a new voucher and use it to find a new place to live in Massachusetts or in another part of the country.
How can I claim my rights under VAWA?
Your landlord or the housing agency that manages your voucher 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 landlord or housing agency that you are a victim of abuse.
How do I prove that I am a victim of abuse?
The landlord or housing agency must accept any one of these documents as proof that you are a victim of abuse:
- A HUD-approved certification form. The housing agency must give you a copy of this form CERTIFICATION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, DATING VIOLENCE OR STALKING
- 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.
- A police record that says you were a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.
- 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 your landlord or the housing agency 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 landlord or housing agency confidential?
Yes. The landlord and the housing agency must keep any information you provide about the violence against you confidential.
But sometimes the landlord or housing agency may use this information. They can use this information only in the following situations:
- If you give permission for the landlord or housing agency to share this information.
- If the landlord needs it in an eviction proceeding (for example, to evict your abuser).
- If a court orders the landlord 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.
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.