Last month HUD announced a settlement with the owners of two New Hampshire properties to resolve allegations that they engaged in housing discrimination for failing to rent to a woman who was a victim of domestic violence. While victims of “domestic violence” are not a separate protected class under our Fair Housing Act (FHA), HUD now takes the position that this resident was discriminated against because of her gender (which, of course, is a FHA protected class) and, in addition, HUD looked to the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) statute for additional protection as the VAWA was strengthened and reauthorized by Congress in 2013.
HUD’s view in this case was that the resident was a victim twice – first by the person who committed the acts of domestic violence against her and then by her apartment management team. The allegations in the complaint included that management refused to renew a lease because the local police had responded to 911 calls concerning allegations of domestic violence. A second complaint was filed when the woman could not get a lease from a new potential landlord, again because of the previous domestic violence visits by the police. Pursuant to the settlement agreements, the complainant will receive $13,550 from the named respondents and the landlords will participate in fair housing training as well as monitoring.
While I absolutely know that there are two sides to every story, the optics here just look bad for management. If your leasing office learns of a situation in which a resident is a potential victim of domestic violence, the prudent course of action is to fully engage in the interactive process and work to find a solution. Simply declining a renew a lease, without more, can lead to the need to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.