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Domestic Violence Victims Reach Settlements in Cases Alleging Housing Discrimination

Domestic Violence Victims Reach Settlements in Cases Alleging Housing Discrimination

Legal Reference | Fair Housing (Housing Discrimination)

By:  Kristina Petronko, NPLS Staff Attorney

First, imagine being a domestic violence victim trying to keep yourself and your family safe. Now imagine being told that if you call the police for help as you are being physically attacked, you, the victim, face losing your home. That’s exactly what was happening with ordinances that strongly encouraged landlords to evict tenants cited for “disorderly conduct” in their home, even if the tenant was the victim of domestic violence.

This fall the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached a settlement with the city of Norristown, Pa. to settle complaints of discrimination against domestic violence victims. The ACLU represented a domestic violence victim who faced eviction because she called the police when her ex-boyfriend physically assaulted her. The police arrested the ex-boyfriend, however, the victim was threatened with eviction under a city ordinance encouraging landlords to evict tenants for “disorderly behavior.”

The definition of “disorderly behavior” in the ordinance included situations in which the tenant was a victim of domestic violence. Landlords had a strong incentive to report the tenant’s alleged “disorderly conduct.” If a landlord didn’t report it, they risked losing their rental license. 

In order to prevent being evicted, the victim didn’t call the police during future attacks by her ex-boyfriend, not even after being hit with a brick in one incident and stabbed in the neck in another incident. Fortunately, the victim’s neighbors called the police during the stabbing attack. The injury was so serious she had to be airlifted to the hospital for treatment. However, because the neighbors called the police, the victim and her young daughter found themselves in danger of being evicted.

In 2013, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court against the City of Norristown on behalf of the victim. The lawsuit alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, the Violence Against Women Act and the United States Constitution. Additionally, HUD filed a complaint against the City of Norristown alleging that its ordinances violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against women.

In September of 2014, Norristown settled the case with the victim by agreeing to repeal the ordinance and pay $495,000 to the victim and her attorneys. HUD settled the complaint with Norristown in October of 2014. According to that settlement, Norristown agreed to publish in the newspaper a notice that the ordinance was repealed. Additionally, they agreed to print and distribute a brochure that explains that tenants should call the police if they need help, even in domestic violence situations. Norristown also agreed to train city officials about fair housing laws and participate in activities designed to raise awareness of domestic violence.

A new law passed this fall by the Pennsylvania legislature and signed by the governor prohibits local governments from penalizing crime victims and their landlords if the police are called to assist the victims. The law takes effect in late January. Read the text of the law.

Read a news article about disorderly conduct laws across the country and how they are more likely to be enforced in neighborhoods of color.

Read the ACLU press release

Read HUD’s press release about the settlement

HUD also recently settled other allegations of housing discrimination against a victim of domestic violence by New Hampshire housing providers. In that case, the tenant was told by her housing provider that he would not renew her lease because the police came to the property in response to the tenant’s domestic violence-related phone calls. Additionally, when the tenant was looking for a new apartment to rent, a different landlord refused to rent to her because of the domestic violence-related phone calls to the police.

The housing providers agreed to pay $13,550 to the victim and will participate in fair housing training. They will also be monitored by HUD to ensure that they comply with the Fair Housing Act and the Violence Against Women Act.

Read more about the New Hampshire settlements

Read HUD Memorandum on Assessing Claims of Housing Discrimination against Victims of

Domestic Violence under the Fair Housing Act and the Violence Against Women Act


Last Updated December 23, 2014

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