Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Please help us advocate for victims of domestic violence by establishing a local Housing Court

     The Housing Court is a layer of protection for women who rent. MA has adopted the key provisions of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and parts are related to issues with landlords. Housing Courts are where women can enforce these protections. The Housing Court has judges and staff with expertise in housing law and who are trained to provide tenants and landlords with a fair court process. Both landlords and tenants can access the resources that only Housing Courts have, including the Tenancy Preservation Program, Lawyer for the Day Programs and Housing Specialists. Homeless can be prevented and municipalities can address serious housing and health code violations efficiently and effectively.
     Currently, one -third of the state’s population does not have access to Housing Court, including Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties. 
     An attempt was made to include funding for these courts in the budget this year.
Due to the extreme budgetary constraints this year, no housing court expansion budget amendment was filed in the House as part of the FY18 budget. Representative Walsh and Representative Donato are working on advancing the housing court expansion as legislation (House) H978 and (Senate) S946.
     The Cape Cod and Islands Commission on the Status of Women is among many organizations that now support the bills that are being filed. We are asking you to contact your legislators, see details below under "Next Steps."

This information is from Greater Boston Legal Services, in the form of advice for victims of domestic Violence:
How does VAWA protect me?
     VAWA means that a housing authority can not refuse to rent to you just because you are or were a victim of abuse.
     VAWA means that you can not be evicted from public housing just because of your abuser or your abuser’s actions.
     If you and your abuser live together, the housing authority can evict your abuser for his or her acts of abuse, but you must be allowed to stay. Acts of abuse include domestic violence, threats, dating violence or stalking.

Can I be evicted for violating my lease?
     Under VAWA, a housing authority can not evict you for violating your lease because you are a victim of abuse.
     It also can not evict you for criminal activity related to domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.
     But, a housing authority could evict you for serious or repeated lease violations that are unrelated to domestic abuse.

What can the housing authority do?
      A housing authority can evict you if it can prove that other tenants or staff are in actual and imminent (immediate) danger that cannot be addressed by security or other steps. If the housing authority can prove this, you could be evicted even if you are a victim of domestic abuse.
     But without proven danger, the housing authority can not evict you or penalize you in any way.
     Also, the housing authority can not hold you to a more demanding set of rules than it uses for tenants who are not victims of abuse.

From Annette R. Duke, Esq.,Housing Attorney,Massachusetts Law Reform Institute:
 (Find your legislators here, after typing your info into the search form, at the bottom of the list under "District Representatives" click on the link for your State Representative and State Senator)

Next Steps
  1. Send your Representative a thank you not  for supporting this as a line-item with this a link to this recent article Housing Court: Where Everyone Benefits by Mass. Bar President Jeff Catalano. Please continue to urge your Representative to educate House Speaker DeLeo about why we need a statewide housing court in Massachusetts, DeLeo did not support adding this to the budget and seems to be resisting the bills. There are some business interests who are lobbying against it.
  2. Please urge your Senator to support housing court expansion via the Senate budget and S.946. Find your Senator here.
  3. Please share the link Join the Growing List of Supporters for Statewide Housing Court with your local and statewide networks so we can continue to build our list of supporters. We have close to 150 organizations. More are joining us all the time. We welcome the following to Housing Court 4 All Coalition:

    - Cape Cod & Islands Commission on the Status of Women
    - Falmouth SWIFT: Supporting Women in Financial Transition
    - Hispanic Bar Association
  4. As soon as the Judiciary Committee sets a hearing date for H. 978 and S 946, I will let you know so that you can submit a letter of support. Please click to see whether any of your Senators or Reps are on the Judiciary Committee and begin to let them know that this is a priority for your organization.
Thank you again for all of your work. We will get all a Housing Court for all in Massachusetts. It is just taking longer than we hoped. 

Additional talking points:
  • 1/3 of the population in MA has no access to housing court including the Cape and Islands.
  • Housing Court has the expertise in federal, state and local laws and the specialists who can mediate these cases. We would especially like to emphasize protections under the federal Violence Against Women Act and the recent additions to Massachusetts domestic violence protections through the 2014 Act Relative to Domestic Violence.
  • Imagine how complicated housing issues can be for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
    • no contact orders,
    • replacing locks,
    • early lease termination,
    • and situations where DV victims are evicted because they’ve called police one too many times… the result being that DV victims not calling police so as not to make trouble so as not to get evicted.
  • Specialists who can mediate are especially needed in light of the fact that there is no right to an attorney in civil cases and so many of these tenants and small business landlords are going into housing court on their own with no legal guidance to mediate on their own.