Up to 50% of homeless women report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness. And nearly all homeless women report experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault in their lifetime.
Source: National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
A Choice Between Abuse and Homelessness
Housing can be a big obstacle when a victim of domestic violence tries to leave an abuser. A victim often must decide between returning to an abuser or risking extreme poverty or homelessness.
Abusers use a range of tactics to control victims. In addition to physical and emotional abuse, an abuser may use financial abuse to stop a victim from leaving. To control the victim’s finances, an abuser may:
- Control household income, and give small “allowances” for essential needs
- Ruin a victim’s credit by maxing out credit lines and credit cardes
- Forbid the victim from working outside the home
- Sabotage the victim’s employment
The result of these tactics mean that it's difficult for a victim to find housing after leaving an abuser.
Domestic Violence Victims Denied Affordable Rental Housing
It is often very difficult for victims of domestic violence to rent an affordable housing unit. Landlords and housing providers often turn away or try to evict domestic violence victims for reasons that are related to the abuser’s behavior:
- Police may be frequently called to the home
- An abuser may cause damage to the property
- A victim may be unable to pay rent because of economic abuse
- An abuser may show up at the property and causes a disturbance
In some communities, local "nuisance" ordinances force landlords to evict tenants if police are repeatedly called to their homes. Many cities in Pennsylvania have these ordinances, which punish victims of domestic violence with homelessness for calling for help.
When a rental victim is evicted in Pennsylvania, it shows up on her or his rental history. As a result, the victim may be denied housing elsewhere.
State and Federal Laws Protect Victims From Discrimination
Housing Protections in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
VAWA is a federal law that protects victims who receive public housing assistance, such as Section 8 Project-Based housing or Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher assistance.
VAWA prohibits the Public Housing Authority and public housing providers or landlords from denying an application for assistance or evicting a tenant for reasons that are directly related to their abuse. VAWA also provides additional protections for victims that receive housing assistance, such as emergency transfers.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The FHA protects against discrimination based on sex, which some courts believe applies to victims of domestic violence because the majority of victims are women. The FHA covers all housing providers, including landlords of privately owned residences.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA)
Like the FHA, the PHRA protects against discrimination based on sex, which may include victims of domestic violence. The PHRA covers all housing providers, including landlords of privately owned residences.
Co-Owning a Home With An Abuser
Separating from an abuser when the victim owns or co-owns a home can be difficult. Legal assistance is often needed. Abusers may:
- Withhold mortgage or tax payments
- Force foreclosure or bankruptcy actions
- Manipulate concerns about adequate housing for children, school districts, and even after school activities for domestic violence victims who are parents
See the Economic Justice and Restoration Page for more information
Protection From Abuse (PFA) Orders Can Have Housing Protections
When filing for a PFA order, victims can request that the court evict or “exclude” an abuser, so the victim and children can feel safe in their home. See the Protection From Abuse page for more information.
Child Custody Laws Complicate Relocating With Children To Escape Abuse
Finding new housing in another town, county or state can be complicated when children are involved. When a victim has children, there are laws that she or he must follow before moving. The consequences for not following the laws for relocation and child custody are severe: If a victim does not follow these rules, she or he may lose custody or face state or federal kidnapping charges. See the Custody and Relocation page for more information.
- Things to Know If You Want to Move With Your Children
Brochure for Domestic Violence Survivors. You may be thinking about moving with your children. Whether you are moving across the street, down the block, to another county or to another state, you need to know about Pennsylvania’s child custody law.410.43 K | 11/11/2013
Ordinance forces victims to choose between help and homelessness
PCADV filed an amicus brief on May 31 in Briggs v. Norristown. Ms. Briggs' federal lawsuit challenges the Norristown nuisance ordinance that forced her into eviction proceedings after police were repeatedly called to her home. Peg Dierkers, PCADV Executive Director, explained, "We are fighting this ordinance in Pennsylvania to protect victims in our state…We hope our work helps to end these harmful ordinances across the nation." 22 other agencies supported the brief. Read more
PCADV works to increase safety and access to affordable housing for victims of domestic violence
- PCADV's member programs work in every county to provide domestic violence victims and families with emergency shelter, housing options and other services to help victims gain financial stability and independence.
- PCADV legal department attorneys provide technical assistance to advocates and attorneys helping domestic violence victims.
- Request training from PCADV or your local domestic violence program
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If you fear for your immediate safety, call 9-1-1 or your local police.
Contact the domestic violence program in your area for free and confidential help.
Other victim programs are available to help you and your family.
Any attorney helping a domestic violence victim may contact the PCADV legal department at 888-235-3425 for information on law and legal procedures. (This is not a helpline for victims.)
The information provided on this website is intended for informational purposes only. The information provided under this topic is not legal advice, does not create an attorney-client relationship, and is not a substitute for contacting an experienced attorney. Read our full legal disclaimer.
New - PCADV's Housing Toolkit for Advocates
Addressing Discriminatory Housing Barriers for Victims of Domestic Violence, 2013
- Toolkit for Advocates
100-page guide to helping victims of domestic violence work through housing barriers. PCADV, 20131.93 Meg | 11/11/2013
Facts On Homelessness, Housing & Violence Against Women, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2013.
The Experience of Violence in the Lives of Homeless Women: A Research Report, Jana L. Jasinski et al., U.S. Dep't of Justice. No. 211976, 2005.