Sexual and domestic violence can have a negative impact on housing stability for families across the country. While women make up the majority of survivors, people of all genders can be subjected to these types of abuse. It is important for survivors to know their rights when it comes to housing, and for us to encourage our representatives to advance further legislation providing protections that help keep survivors safe (skip to the end for an action you can take right now).
The Federal Fair Housing Act was signed in 1968 to increase housing equality by making it illegal to discriminate in housing transactions because of someone’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex (which can include sexual orientation or gender identity) or because they have children. Discrimination based on sex is illegal under the FHA and this includes protection against sexual harassment.
Tenants sometimes face sexual harassment in the way of inappropriate comments made by a landlord, property manager, or maintenance person. This sometimes includes using the tenant’s contact information to reach them for reasons unrelated to the housing situation, such as to ask for a date.
Another form of sexual harassment in a housing transaction is quid quo pro. This occurs when a housing provider or maintenance employee withholds housing or repairs unless the tenant agrees to perform sexual acts in exchange.
The pressure of these types of harassment can be extremely difficult to manage, especially when the tenant’s housing stability could be jeopardized if they do not comply. Additionally, victims of sexual harassment are sometimes afraid of retaliation by their landlord if they report the incident. Under the FHA all of these types of sexual harassment are illegal, as is retaliation against someone for reporting harassment.
The Louisiana Violence Against Women Act, also known as LAVAWA, intends to keep survivors of domestic violence safe and in their homes.
Under LAVAWA, those being subjected to abuse are free to call emergency services to their home without the risk of jeopardizing their housing. This is true even if their lease contains a clause stating that there is a zero tolerance policy regarding police visits or similar disturbances.
Survivors are also protected from eviction or termination of a month-to-month lease as the result of their abuser’s violence. Landlords do have the option to evict an abuser, but they must give the violence survivor the option to take over the lease and stay in their home.
This legislation also protects survivors against denials for rental properties based on their experience with domestic violence. A housing provider is not allowed to deny a potential tenant because they know the tenant is a survivor or if one of their previous addresses is a domestic violence shelter.
Finally, survivors of domestic violence under LAVAWA are able to terminate their lease early and move without penalty in order to ensure their safety. This means that if they leave the property to flee their abuser, they shouldn’t lose their security deposit or be charged other fees.
Representative Aimee Adatto Freeman introduced HB 375 during Louisiana’s current legislative session. The bill would provide protections for sexual violence survivors who may not be protected under LAVAWA. While LAVAWA protects survivors who are in a relationship with their abuser, it leaves survivors of sexual assault by someone they are not in an intimate relationship with vulnerable to unsafe housing conditions.
HB 375 would ensure that all survivors of sexual assault in Louisiana will be able to terminate their lease without penalty if necessary and if the assault occurred after the lease was signed.
Data suggests that women are most often sexually assaulted by someone that they know. If an abuser knows the address of the survivor, it could put them in danger of future assault or continuous harassment. It could also put the survivor at risk of retaliation for reporting the incident of sexual violence.
In the situation that the assault occurs at the survivor’s home, remaining at the property could result in significantly increased mental health effects as they recover from the violence. Sexual assault survivors can develop PTSD and have flashbacks triggered by things that remind them of the attack. Living in the place where a sexual assault occurred could increase the occurrence of these episodes and make healing very difficult if not impossible.
The bill includes some protections for landlords by requiring survivors to give a 60-day notice after the occurrence of the assault if they intend to terminate their lease. It also allows a landlord to terminate the lease of tenants accused of sexual assault.
Last week, LSU students bravely shared their painful stories of sexual assault with a Louisiana House Committee. Their powerful testimonies cleared the way for a bill that would allow survivors to end their leases early and without penalty so they don’t have to re-live their assault or feel unsafe in their home.
The bill passed out of committee without objection. Please help support survivors by encouraging representatives to ensure the bills clears a vote in the full Louisiana House. Follow this link to tell house members to stand with survivors.