Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual violence frequently incur housing problems related to the violence they are experiencing. Victims who live in rental housing are three times more likely to experience violence than victims who own their own homes. Two laws - the Safe Homes Act and the Violence Against Women Act - provide victims of violence who live in rental housing with some of the tools necessary to access and maintain safe housing. To see a brochure explaining both laws, click on the title below:
The Safe Homes Act
What is it?
The Safe Homes Act is an Illinois law that allows victims of domestic or sexual violence to leave their rental housing early, before the end of their lease, to protect their physical safety and emotional well being. In certain circumstances, victims can also request an emergency lock change to keep the abuser out of the home.
Before this law, a woman who was raped by an unknown assailant in her home could not end her lease early, and a victim of domestic violence could not change her locks to prevent her abusive boyfriend from re-entering her apartment.
What is its purpose?
To recognize that survivors of violence face particularly dangerous and emotionally draining situations if they are trapped in rental housing that jeopardizes their physical safety or emotional well being.
Who can benefit?
Anyone who lives in most kinds of rental housing, including children, who have been or would be the victim of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual assault or sexual abuse. The Safe Homes Act does not cover residents who live in public housing. All other kinds of subsidized housing, including "Section 8" Housing Choice Vouchers, are covered by the Act.
How to use the Safe Homes Act to leave an apartment before the lease ends
The Safe Homes Act allows anyone in a household, including children, who are the victim of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking or sexual violence (domestic or sexual violence) to end their lease early and leave their home. It does not matter if they have a written or an oral lease.
What proof does the victim have to give the landlord to be able to leave the rental apartment before the end of the lease?
The victim must tell the landlord or their agent (such as the property manager) in writing that there is a real threat called "credible imminent threat" of future domestic violence or sexual violence happening on the premises. This may include inside the apartment unit, laundry room, backyard, parking lot, hallways, or the front and back entrances to the property. Other than the person's statement of a fear of future harm, no other proof, like a police report or court order, is necessary to give the landlord notice of leaving the apartment. This notice must be given to the landlord or agent within three days before or after leaving the apartment. See a sample notice:
Notice to End Lease Early Due to Credible, Imminent Threat of Domestic or Sexual Violence
If the victim gives proper notice to the landlord, they may not be held responsible for rent due after they have left the apartment. The landlord cannot keep the security deposit or any interest due because the tenant lawfully exercised their rights under the Safe Homes Act. However, tenants who use the Safe Homes Act must be sure to remove all of their belongings from the unit and return the keys to the landlord or property manager when they leave the apartment. Otherwise, the tenant could potentially still be held responsible for the unit.
What are some examples of a credible, imminent threat?
There will be many situations where survivors can use this law to help them flee dangerous housing. Some examples of a credible, imminent threat include:
• The abuser comes to their job, and they fear he will come to their house next;
• A stalker stands across the street from their apartment;
• An abusive ex-boyfriend knows where they live;
• The person is sexually assaulted at the premises, and the police have not caught the perpetrator.
What are extra protections available for victims of sexual violence?
The victim of sexual violence, including cases involving sexual assault or sexual abuse, can still leave their apartment early without showing a credible, imminent threat of future harm if the sexual violence occurred on the premises.
The victim must notify the landlord or property manager in writing three days before or after leaving the apartment. Along with the notice, the survivor must have some evidence to prove that the sexual assault happened. The evidence must be one of the following:
- A police report
- Medical records
- Court records
- A statement from a victim service organization
The notice must be given to the landlord or agent within 60 days of the sexual violence, or as soon as possible if the survivor cannot notify them within 60 days because they are in the hospital, receiving counseling or in shelter care for example. Click on the title below to see a sample notice for a victim of sexual violence:
If proper notice is given, the survivor may not be responsible for rent due after leaving the apartment. The landlord cannot keep the security deposit or any interest due because the tenant lawfully exercised their rights under the Safe Homes Act.
What happens if the landlord sues them in court for the rent due after they have left the apartment?
If the landlord sues them in court for rent due for the rest of the oral or written lease, the survivor has an "affirmative defense" (a defense that can defeat a plaintiff's legal claim even if that claim is true) to the non-payment of rent. This can be done if the notice of a credible imminent threat was properly given to the landlord or property manager, or if the notice of sexual violence plus supporting documentation was properly given to the landlord or property manager.
How to use the Safe Homes Act to change the locks
Tenants who are victims of domestic or sexual violence can also receive emergency lock changes. The right to a lock change differs depending on the type of lease and if the abuser is on the lease. For tenants to a written contract where the abuser is not named on the lease, the tenant must provide a written notice from all tenants named on the lease requesting a lock change due to a credible imminent threat of domestic or sexual violence on the premises. This notice must be backed up by evidence:
- A police report
- Medical records
- Court records, or
- A statement from a victim service organization
For tenants to a written lease where the abuser is named on the contract and for tenants to an oral lease, regardless of where the abuser lives, the tenant must provide a written notice from all tenants who are part of the written or verbal lease (except the abuser) requesting a lock change due to a credible imminent threat of domestic or sexual violence on the premises.
Click on the title below to see a sample lock change request:
What must the landlord do once he receives proper notice of the request for a lock change?
Once the landlord receives proper notice, the landlord has 48 hours to change the locks or allow the tenant to change the locks. The landlord may charge a reasonable fee for the lock change. If a landlord does not change the locks within 48 hours after the tenants give him proper notice, the tenants may change the locks or sue the landlord in court to have the locks changed. Click on the title below to see a sample suit to have the locks changed:
Both parties should give the other a new set of keys as soon as possible or not later than 48 hours. Both sides could be liable if damages are resulting from the denial of access to the unit.
The Violence Against Women Act
What is it?
The federal Violence Against Women Act of 2005 (VAWA 2005) (Pub. L. 109-162; 119 Stat. 2960) was signed into law January 5, 2006. It contains new provisions to protect victims of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking who live in public housing, Project-based Section 8 housing, or have a Housing Choice "Section 8" Voucher, also referred to as public or subsidized housing.
The protections also cover immediate family members, including any person living with the victim and related to her by blood or marriage. This includes the victim’s spouse, parent, brother, sister, child or any person to whom the victim acts as a legal guardian.
What is the purpose of the new provisions?
The purpose of the new housing section is to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence, and stalking, and to prevent homelessness by:
- Protecting the safety of victims living in this housing
- Ensuring victims’ meaningful access to the criminal justice system without jeopardizing their housing
- Creating long-term housing solutions for this population
- Building collaborations among victim providers and housing agencies to provide services, training, and interventions
- Enabling public housing authorities and landlords to respond appropriately to violence while maintaining safe housing for everyone
These provisions protect victims of violence from being denied public or subsidized housing because they are victims of violence. They also protect victims from being evicted from their housing or having their subsidies ended because of actual or threatened violence.
Who can benefit?
This law will benefit victims of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking who live in or are applying for public or subsidized housing. Note that victims of sexual violence are only protected in limited circumstances.
How VAWA 2005 protects survivors in admissions
If someone applies for public or subsidized housing, the owner or housing authority cannot use his or her history of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking as a reason to deny them housing assistance if they would qualify if they did not consider that history of violence.
If a public housing authority or owner (PHA/owner) would like to be considered for a VAWA 2005 money grant, the PHA/owner also cannot consider an applicant’s history as a victim of sexual violence as a basis for denying housing assistance.
How VAWA 2005 protects survivors from eviction/subsidy terminations
VAWA provides relief to victims from federal "one-strike" criminal activity eviction laws. In light of VAWA:
- Actual or threatened domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking will not be considered serious or repeated violations of the lease or good cause for terminating assistance or the tenancy;
- Criminal activity directly relating to domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking by a member of the tenant’s household, any guest, or another person under the tenant’s control shall not terminate the tenant’s assistance or tenancy if the tenant or an immediate member of their family is the victim or threatened victim of that domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.
Housing authorities and owners can also change the lease to evict, remove from the household, or terminate assistance to any tenant or lawful occupant who engages in criminal acts of violence against family members or others. The housing authority or owner can give the victim of violence and the abuser each a separate lease, voucher or unit of housing. It is up to the housing authority or owner to determine if they will begin eviction or termination of assistance proceedings against the abuser. Because the victim has her lease, her housing will not be in jeopardy if the housing authority or owner evicts the abuser.
However, housing authorities and owners can evict or end the lease if:
- There is a lease violation not based on the acts of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking against the tenant or member of the tenant’s household, provided victims of violence are not subject to a more rigorous standard than other tenants when determining whether or not to evict or end assistance;
- The housing authority can demonstrate an actual and imminent threat to other tenants or those employed at or providing service to the property if that tenant stays in their current housing.
How VAWA 2005 protects victims of violence who receive orders of protection
The housing authority or owner cannot interfere with the victim's efforts to work with the police or the court to keep the abuser away from them or someone in their household. If the victim receives a court order, such as an Order of Protection, the housing authority or owner must act according the court order, especially as it relates to who has a right to the housing, the housing subsidy, or access to the property.
How VAWA 2005 protects victim's confidentiality
VAWA 2005 recognizes that protecting a victim’s privacy is central to maintaining their safety. Housing authorities, housing providers, and owners must keep information given to them by victims of violence confidential. This confidential data cannot be entered into any shared databases or provided to other individuals. The information may only be released if the victim of violence requests in writing that the information is released or if the release of the data is otherwise required by law.
How VAWA protects voucher holders who flee their homes for safety reasons
VAWA also protects victims of violence who have Housing Choice Vouchers and need to leave their current housing due to an imminent threat of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking if they remained in their home. When you move with your Housing Choice Voucher from one housing authority to another, this activity is called "porting." You typically need permission from both housing authorities to make this move before you are allowed to move with your voucher to a new housing authority's jurisdiction. Because of VAWA, victims of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking who flee first due to an imminent threat should be allowed to "port" or move with a voucher. For the move to be approved, the voucher holder must also comply with all other program requirements.
What a victim of violence must show to receive assistance
To receive protection under VAWA, a victim of violence must have experienced one incident of violence, and that incident must have formed the basis for the housing authority or landlord’s action against the victim.
VAWA does not require housing authorities or landlords to ask for documentation of the fact that an individual is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. A housing authority or landlord may accept the person’s statement that she is a victim of abuse as sufficient evidence.
A housing authority or landlord may also ask for additional verification. Additional documentation can include:
- Police or court records documenting the violence
- Statement from an employee, agent, or volunteer of a victim service provider, an attorney, or medical professional, from whom the victim has sought services to address the violence, signed under penalty of perjury that the incidents in question are actual incidents of abuse. The victim must also sign this statement, and the document must name the offender
- Completion of a HUD certification form
Once a housing authority or landlord has asked for additional information, the victim has 14 days to provide the documentation or the housing authority/landlord may begin eviction proceedings. It is up to the housing authority or landlord to decide to give the victim additional time to provide the information.
How housing authorities must notify residents of their VAWA rights
Public housing authorities must provide notice to tenants of their rights according to VAWA, including the right to not be evicted or have their assistance terminated, their right to confidentiality, and must inform owners and managers of their obligations. Housing authorities must also incorporate the above provisions and any new programs, collaborations, or other efforts aimed at protecting victims of domestic and sexual violence into their annual and five-year plans.
Where to go for more information
Here is the complete text of The Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005.