According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four women and one in ten men experience domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence. Around 77% of domestic violence incidents occur at or nearby the victim’s home, based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Considering that more than 43 million homes are occupied by renters in the United States, there is a chance that domestic violence will take place within your rental property.
As a landlord, you have a role to play in the prevention of domestic violence within your community. You must familiarize yourself with the laws protecting your tenants should they become victims of domestic violence.
What is Domestic Violence?
The United States Department of Justice defines domestic violence as a crime of violence that is committed by a spouse (either past or current) or intimate partner. It pertains to violent behavior wherein one partner seeks to gain power over the other through fear and intimidation.
Domestic violence occurs in many forms of abuse, whether physical, sexual, psychological, financial, verbal, as well as stalking and male privilege. It usually deals with aggressive behavior that scares, threatens, or harms a partner. It also includes actions that coerce an individual to perform certain acts that they aren’t willing to do.
What Laws Govern Domestic Abuse in Rental Properties?
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides a clear outline of the regulations that landlords and property managers must adhere to. It includes laws that protect past victims of domestic violence. Make sure to check your state’s laws as there may be other local ordinances concerning victims and their abusers.
In general, the VAWA states that a landlord cannot:
- Refuse rent to a prospective tenant who has a history of being a victim of domestic violence, including stalking and dating violence. Under the Fair Housing Act, domestic violence survivors shall not be discriminated against.
- Evict a tenant who is suffering from domestic violence. Regardless of whether the violent crime was committed within the rental property, landlords are not allowed to terminate the tenant’s lease.
- Impose lenient policies for victims of domestic violence, such as allowing late rent payments, forgiving property damage, permitting loud noise, and other activities that would normally violate the terms of the lease.
When Can Landlords Evict the Tenant?
By law, tenants, whether the abuser or the victim, cannot be evicted simply because of the existence of domestic violence. Eviction would only be considered legal when:
- The aggressor/abuser is an immediate threat to other residents or employees of the property.
- The victim keeps allowing the aggressor/abuser to visit the property.
However, you may also evict the tenant if they violate any of the terms of their lease, even if unrelated to domestic violence.
Here is what you need to do to handle cases of domestic violence on your rental property:
What to Do if Your Tenant is the Victim
Landlords can extend certain protections to a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence. However, the tenant must provide satisfactory proof. The requirements differ from state to state, but generally, a tenant would have to provide:
- A restraining order against his/her abuser.
- Documentary proof of a criminal charge against the offender for domestic abuse, sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking.
- A protective order from a law enforcement officer, physician, healthcare provider, counselor, court employee, etc.
After the tenant has provided you with the necessary proof, you may provide protections like:
- Removing the abuser from the shared lease.
- Terminating the lease.
- Changing the locks. Your tenant may change the locks themselves (if the situation calls for it) but they will have to provide you with a key for access. They may also request you to change the locks within 48 hours.
What to Do if Your Tenant is the Abuser
It is important to keep in mind that you should never intervene directly. Abusers may react to a confrontation with violence and aggression, putting you at risk. It is always best to request the assistance of local authorities who are trained to handle delicate subject matters.
If you have sufficient evidence that the tenant is abusing his/her partner, you may evict the abuser while allowing the victim to stay. This process is called bifurcation and is outlined in the VAWA. However, if there is not enough reliable information to evict the abuser, you can resort to other actions such as:
- Handing out brochures with up-to-date resources on domestic violence to tenants. There are plenty of free resources online or you can create your own.
- Posting flyers around the apartment, dropping brochures in mailboxes or sending emails that support peace and security to all tenants. Consider using management software to send out urgent notices.
Keep in mind that when a tenant is acting violently on the rental property, landlords and property management companies have the right to request the assistance of authorities. In addition, if you suspect that your tenant is continuing to suffer from domestic violence, you should consider calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
What is Section 8?
Landlord-tenant laws are often regulated by state ordinances, however, incidents involving domestic violence are governed by federal law. Section 8 of the VAWA provides that tenants who are victims may move out of the rental property given that there is “reasonable belief” that their continued stay would endanger their life or their children’s lives. As long as your tenant notifies you in advance, they are legally permitted to terminate their lease and move out.
What Should You Do with Non-Paying Tenants?
When the abuser is evicted, there is a chance that the existing tenant, the victim, will not have the financial capability to pay their rent. In this case, you can use your best judgment, as each situation is unique. It would be rash to evict the victim for non-payment, especially when the abuser is no longer an issue.
Consider referring your tenant to charity organizations that assist domestic violence survivors. Programs such as the Salvation Army and the Catholic Charities may be able to help your tenant get back on their feet.
If you require assistance in dealing with domestic violence within your rental property, consider hiring a property management company. The property managers at Luxury Property Care are trained to deal with delicate matters that protect the best interests of the property owner. As professionals, they understand the importance of safeguarding sensitive data especially those that deal with domestic violence and abuse.