The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a federal law enacted in 1994 and reauthorized in 2013. VAWA provides important protections from domestic violence, dating violence, and/or stalking to individuals who reside in federally subsidized housing. Without these protections, victims often have no choice but to continue to suffer from violence or face eviction. VAWA applies to Section 8 tenant-based and project-based housing programs and low-income housing tax credit programs. The 2013 reauthorization expanded VAWA’s protections to include additional HUD housing programs as well.
The primary housing-related protection that VAWA provides is the possibility for a landlord to bifurcate a lease, which allows the landlord to remove from the lease the resident who engaged in an act of violence against another resident of the same household. This allows landlords to legally remove only the offending resident rather than terminating the lease and housing assistance for the entire household. In fact, VAWA specifically prohibits evicting covered victims due to the occurrence, or threat, of violence.
Since VAWA’s creation, many states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar state laws. These laws expand protection to victims of violence who do not reside in federally subsidized housing.
Although VAWA’s reauthorization occurred back in 2013, attorneys at Offit Kurman have only recently seen a noticeable number of attempts by tenants to have their leases bifurcated based on this law. We also have received more owner and manager inquiries regarding how to handle domestic violence situations where victims have obtained protective orders. The owners and management companies who experienced these situations had been unaware of VAWA’s bifurcated lease provision and their obligations under state law. Here is a quick summary of what PMA members who manage multifamily residential properties need to know about housing protections for victims of domestic violence.
In Virginia, since 2013, a landlord must allow a victim of domestic or sexual violence to terminate his/her lease responsibility prior to the end of the lease term, without penalty, if certain criteria are met (Virginia Code § 55-225.16, § 55-248.21:2). The victim must provide the landlord written notice about the intent to terminate the lease along with a copy of a final protective order or an order convicting the perpetrator of domestic abuse or sexual assault.
The District of Columbia
The District of Columbia adopted the law protecting victims of domestic violence in 2007 and 2009. DC permits victims of domestic violence or their parents (if the victim is a minor) to terminate a lease prior to the end of the lease term without penalty. To do so, the victims must provide to the landlord written notice with the intent to terminate the lease and a copy of a protective order or documentation from a qualified third party showing that the violence had been reported to the third party in its official capacity (DC Code § 42-3505.07). DC law restricts this protection only to those who submit a request to terminate the lease within 90 days of the date the violence took place.
In 2010 and 2011, Maryland also extended housing protections to victims of violence. Under Maryland law, a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault may terminate their lease early, without penalty, by providing the landlord written notice about the intent to terminate the lease and a copy of the permanent protective order or peace order (Maryland Code, Real Property § 8-5A-02). Additionally, upon receipt of victim’s written request and a copy of an order refusing the perpetrator entry into the dwelling unit, Maryland requires a landlord to change the locks of a dwelling unit to permit a victim-leaseholder to continue residing in the unit while preventing access to the perpetrator (Maryland Code, Real Property § 8-5A-06).
Do Your Policies Comply with VAWA and Related State Laws?
No matter whether your property participates in federal housing assistance programs or not, you need to ensure that your leasing policies comply with VAWA and related state laws. For starters, evaluate your lease termination policies and ensure that such policies are in compliance. For example, landlords participating in federal housing programs should ensure that their policies support the bifurcation of a lease to remove perpetrators. Additionally, all landlords in the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland should ensure that their policies permit victims to exercise the option to be removed from their lease obligations if the required prerequisites are met.
Most importantly, landlords should discontinue the practice of terminating a lease for all leaseholders and occupants in situations where domestic violence or sexual assault is the premise for the termination.
Your attention to this matter will help protect your property from potential legal problems and provide support to those who suffer from violence in their homes.
ABOUT CRYSTAL KRAMER
Crystal Kramer is an attorney in the Landlord Representation Group. Crystal’s practice is focused on representation of landlords and property managers of residential and commercial real estate in Virginia. This representation includes Fair Housing disputes and all litigation associated with lease disputes, including breach of lease, unlawful detainer actions, and tenant’s assertion actions.
ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
Offit Kurman is one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. With over 120 attorneys offering a comprehensive range of services in virtually every legal category, the firm is well positioned to meet the needs of dynamic businesses and the people who own and operate them. Our ten offices in the Mid-Atlantic region serve clients in the entire state of Maryland, the Washington DC metropolitan area, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York City. At Offit Kurman, we are our clients’ most trusted legal advisors, professionals who help maximize and protect business value and personal wealth. In every interaction, we consistently maintain our client’s confidence by remaining focused on furthering their objectives and achieving their goals in an efficient manner. Trust, knowledge, confidence—in a partner, that’s perfect.
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