When abuse hits home: how landlords can protect victims

Reading the headlines recently about issues of sexual harassment and abuse is just boggling my mind.  No sensible person would doubt that these situations happen but I don’t think anyone realized how widespread they are.  It makes me think of all the ways people are unable to feel safe, in their workplaces, in public and even in their homes.  Women, children and men.

Recently when I was doing showings of a vacant unit, a prospective renter contacted me to schedule an appointment.  Before we got a chance to discuss her reason for leaving her current unit, she told me she wanted to be very honest and straightforward with me.  She volunteered that she was looking for a new home for herself and her child to escape a domestic violence situation.  She said what attracted her to my place was the fact that it was so far from and unrelated to where she was currently living.

I was really struck by our conversation.  This was my first experience with a renter in this type of situation.  My heart goes out to people who have to arrange their whole lives around protecting their families from someone else’s mental illness or malicious selfishness. And I appreciated her candor and admired her courage.  This caller never actually viewed my place as she ended up making other arrangements.  I didn’t get a chance to meet her, but wherever she is I pray for her safety and peace of mind, I’m wishing the best for her and her family, and I hope her abuser makes a decision to seek professional help.

Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual violence frequently incur housing problems related to the violence they are experiencing. Victims who live in rental housing are three times more likely to experience violence than victims who own their own homes.

Illinois Legal Aid blog post “Housing Protection for Domestic and Sexual Violence Victims”

On this last day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, here are some ways that landlords can help (by the way, it’s the law).  First, educate yourselves.  Landlords and tenants should be aware of the Safe Homes Act (state law) and the Violence Against Women Act (federal).  Though these laws have existed for years, even many people who are connected to rental housing (on both sides) are unaware of the legal protections currently in place to keep victims of domestic abuse safe.  The Safe Homes law “protects the health and safety of survivors of domestic and sexual violence who live in rental and subsidized housing.”  Did you know that both tenants and member of their households who are survivors of domestic abuse can legally:

  • change the locks on an emergency basis to keep the person who attacked them out of their home (for tenants with written leases only) and
  • leave their housing and end their lease early to protect their physical safety and emotional wellbeing (for tenants with written or oral leases)
  • And remember, the Illinois Human Rights Act forbids discrimination with respect to real estate transactions on bases of race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment), national origin, ancestry, military status, age (40 and over) AND ORDER OF PROTECTION STATUS.

Second, don’t “re-victimize” the victim.  Read this Chicago Tribune story “Tenant reported abuse — then suffered eviction.”  This renter did all the right things.  The result caused a situation where she said, “I was punished for protecting myself and my daughter.”

Finally, educate others.  Check out The Shriver Center site for flyers in English, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese to raise awareness in your community wherever you are.  This organization advocates for victims and sometimes represents them in court.  Consider printing up some of these flyers and distributing them where you live.  You never know whose life you might touch.  Just a little information can give a whole family a better future.


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