On March 12, 2019, HUD entered into a Conciliation Agreement with a domestic violence victim and Essex Property Trust, Inc (and others). This is an important case because it indicates that victims of domestic violence may have a fair housing claim when landlords do not take reasonable steps to protect the victim.
Facts of the Case
- On August 13, 2018, the complainant filed a complaint with HUD against Essex Property Trust and others (including the individual property manager, assistant community manager and regional portfolio manager associated with the property the complainant lived at (Lawrence Station Apartments in Sunnyvale, CA).
- The complaint alleged that the respondents discriminated against the resident on the basis of her sex when they declined to respond to her multiple requests to have the locks changed and to have her then husband’s name removed from the lease.
- The respondents denied all allegations but agreed to resolve the claims by entering into a voluntary conciliation agreement.
Terms of the Agreement
- Essex Property Trust will pay the complainant $20,000;
- Management personnel involved in the decision-making relating to the requests will attend fair housing training;
- The owners will implement at all properties they own or manage a policy regarding how to address the safety and housing needs of tenants who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence; and
- All employees or agents of the company will be given a copy of the Domestic Violence Policy and will be given guidance on the implementation of the policy.
This is an important case because, while it did not go to trial, it makes clear that HUD will pursue cases of owners and managers not taking reasonable steps to protect residents in cases of domestic violence. Also, since it was brought on the basis of sex discrimination, it indicates that since the overwhelming majority of domestic violence cases occur against women, HUD may consider such actions to have a disparate impact based on sex.
Owners and managers of housing properties – including those not required to comply with the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)- should implement policies regarding how to deal with domestic violence situations. At a minimum, such policies should include provisions requiring that at the request of domestic violence victims, owners will consider the steps that may be taken to reasonably protect such victims.