New Responsibilities: Violence Against Women Act Covers Housing Properties By A. J. Johnson

7 min read

On March 7, President Obama signed into law the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 following earlier passage by Congress.

The new law (P.L. No. 113-4) significantly expands the number of federal housing programs subject to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), creating new responsibilities and requirements for owners and managers of many types of affordable multifamily rental housing properties.

VAWA, originally enacted in 1994, establishes protections and rights for women who are victims of domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The updated protections include those relating to housing and the new obligations that will be imposed on property owners and managers.

List of Covered Programs Expanded

Previously, VAWA applied only to public housing and the project- and tenant-based Section 8 rental assistance programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Title VI, Section 601 of the new act greatly expands the scope of federal housing programs covered. The following HUD programs are now covered:

  • Section 8 Rental Assistance Program
  • Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Public Housing Program
  • Section 202 Supportive Housing Program for the Elderly
  • Section 811 Supportive Housing Program for Disabled Persons
  • McKinney-Vento Homeless Program
  • Section 221(d) Insurance Programs
  • Section 236 Program
  • Housing provided under the Cranston-Gonzalez Affordable Housing Act
  • Section 8 Community Investment Demonstration Program

Also subject for the first time are the federal low-income housing tax credit program and USDA Rural Development’s rural housing programs (e.g., Section 515, Section 538). Not covered are tax-exempt bond-financed properties, unless they also have 4% housing tax credits.

Housing Protections

Under the act, an applicant or resident participating in any of the preceding covered programs may not be denied assistance, terminated from, or evicted from housing because they have been – or currently are – a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. This applies even if the person committing the violence or stalking is a member of the same household.

Leases under covered programs may be bifurcated in order to evict, remove, or terminate assistance to any individual who engages in criminal activity relating to domestic violence – without evicting the victim. If the evicted tenant is the only member of the tenant household eligible to receive assistance, the victim must be given the opportunity to qualify for assistance on their own. If they do not qualify, they must be given a reasonable time (as determined by the appropriate agency) to find new housing or establish eligibility.

Victims of domestic violence may, however, be evicted for lease violations not associated with domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Request for Documentation

If an individual (applicant or tenant) represents that they are entitled to protection under this section of the law, the property owner may send them a written request to submit supporting documentation within 14 days (from the time of receipt of the request). This documentation must contain a certification stating that:

  • The applicant or tenant is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
  • The incident of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking meets the definition of domestic violence under the law; and,
  • Names the person who committed the domestic violence, if the name is known and safe to provide.

This document must be signed by the applicant or tenant as well as by: an employee, agent, or volunteer of a victim service provider; an attorney; a medical professional; or a mental health professional from whom the victim has sought assistance relating to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. The professional signing the statement must state under penalty of perjury that they believe the incident meets the requirements of VAWA.

The document may also be a record of a federal, state, tribal, or local law enforcement agency, court, or administrative agency, or – at the discretion of the agency or owner – a statement or other evidence provided by the applicant or tenant.


All information provided by a potential victim must be kept confidential and may not be entered into any shared database or disclosed to any entity or individual, unless the disclosure is:

  • Requested or agreed to in writing by the victim;
  • Required as part of an eviction proceeding; or,
  • Otherwise required by law.

Conflicting Information

An owner that receives conflicting information may require documentation by a third party.

In addition, VAWA is preempted by any federal, state, or local law that is more stringent.

HUD Notification

The act requires HUD to develop a notice of the rights of individuals under the new law, including the right to confidentiality. Once this notice is available, owners will be required to provide this notice to applicants for covered housing at the time that an applicant or tenant is:

  • Denied housing;
  • Admitted to housing; or,
  • Notified of eviction or assistance termination.

The notice must be in multiple languages, consistent with the requirements of the Limited English Proficiency Regulations. (Note: These regulations do not currently apply to the LIHTC program.)

HUD’s notice will apply to all covered housing programs.

Emergency Transfers

Federal agencies (e.g., HUD, RD) will develop emergency transfer plans for use by owners that:

  • Allow tenants who are victims to transfer to another available and safe dwelling unit if they: o Request the transfer; and,

o Believe they are threatened with imminent harm if they remain in the same dwelling unit; or,
o Are a victim of a sexual assault that occurred on the premises in the 90 days prior to the transfer request; and,
o Incorporate confidentiality measures ensuring that the location of the new unit is not disclosed to the person who committed the act of violence.

Additional guidance will be needed from the applicable federal agencies in order to fully implement the revised requirements of the VAWA. HUD already has guidance in place for Section 8 properties. These properties should continue to follow HUD’s current requirements regarding VAWA until the Department issues new guidance.

As for LIHTC properties, this is a brand new requirement. Guidance will be required in a number of areas to address, among other things, the following issues and questions:

  1. When tenants are evicted due to the commission of a crime covered by this law, and they were the sole qualifying tenant, what steps will be taken to qualify the victim (the remaining resident) as an eligible tenant? This could occur in a tax credit property if the abuser was the original tenant, got married, and the wife joined the unit. She would be added as a new member, but would have to qualify on her own in the event that the husband is removed from the unit. If she will not qualify on her own (due to income, student status, etc.), what should be the appropriate period of time to allow her to find other housing?
  2. Agencies will have to develop an Emergency Transfer Plan. Will this be done by the Internal Revenue Service or by state housing finance agencies?

These and a number of other issues will have to be worked out before the law can be fully implemented at LIHTC properties.

A. J. Johnson is president of A. J. Johnson Consulting Services, Inc., a Williamsburg, Va.-based full service real estate consulting firm specializing in due diligence and asset management issues, with an emphasis on low-income housing tax credit properties. He may be reached at 757-259-9920, [email protected].