October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and in Louisiana, one of the states with the highest rates of female homicide victims, there is an especially urgent need for awareness and action.
Domestic violence and housing go hand in hand. Far too often, survivors of domestic violence are forced to make the decision between their safety and their home. Nearly 1 in 3 residents in Louisiana domestic violence shelters reported being there because the actions of their abusers led to their eviction, according to a 2015 Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence survey. Because many shelters are at capacity and have to turn away survivors, evictions often lead to homelessness. According to the 2013 Louisiana Homeless Census, 75 percent of all homeless adults in Louisiana report being victims of domestic violence.
In 2015, GNOFHAC, the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and partners from across the state succeeded in passing the Louisiana Violence Against Women Act to protect the housing rights of survivors of domestic violence. There are four important provisions:
Survivors cannot be evicted or penalized for calling for emergency assistance. It’s against the law for a housing provider to have a “zero tolerance” policy for police visits in their lease.
Survivors cannot be evicted because of the violence of their abuser. Survivors are often evicted due to the actions of an abuser regardless of whether or not the abuser lived on the property. This act not only protects survivors against court-ordered evictions, but also against other types of evictions, like a notice to vacate or refusal to renew a month-to-month lease.
Survivors cannot be denied housing solely because they have experienced past abuse. Shelters often report that if a survivor lists a domestic violence shelter as a previous residence on a housing application, they often have more trouble finding housing. A landlord or leasing agent cannot refuse to provide housing to someone solely because they have experienced domestic violence.
Survivors can terminate a lease early if they need to. Survivors who need to leave their home due to domestic violence must be allowed to do so without forfeiting their security deposit or other penalty.
The Louisiana Violence Against Women Act offers important protections, but many tenants in Louisiana are not aware of these rights. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1-888-411-1333. Help is free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against by a housing provider, or if you have questions about your housing rights, call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 1-877-445-2100.