Thursday, June 30, 2011
The answer, it seems, is maybe.
Around the country, many leases give landlords the power to evict based on the criminal behavior of a tenant, any member of a tenant’s household, or a tenant's guest. Department of Housing an Urban Development, for example, specifically allows landlords to evict tenants for criminal activity committed by any household member or guest -- this is known as "the one-strike rule." The problem with such policies it that they would allow the eviction of female tenants based on the violent acts committed by their spouses, partners, and visitors
There are, however, some legal protections to help the victims of stalking and domestic violence. First, tenants living in public housing or using section 8 vouchers can seek relief under The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA provides that being a victim of domestic abuse, dating violence, or stalking is not a basis for denial of assistance or admission to public or Section 8 tenat-based or project-based housing. Moreover, VAWA prohibit the termination of assistance or tenancy based on criminal activity directly relating to domestic violence or stalking. (For more info, see this memo from HUD).
Things get tricker in private housing. A few states have passed laws on the issue. California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161.3, for instance, prohibits terminating the tenancy of a victim of domestic violence "if the domestic violence has been documented in a police report within the last 180 days or has resulted in a restraining order. Domestic violence covered by this statute includes stalking."
The Fair Housing Act may also provide some relief. Facially neutral housing polices like the "one strike rule" almost certainly have a disparate impact on women, since the overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims are female. However, as of yet, I haven't found any great case law on this. It appears the ACLU has brought a case of two on this issue, but the disputes ultimately settled.