Landlords in New Hampshire are in an uproar over proposed legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against domestic abuse victims.
The bill, which has passed the House Judiciary Committee and may soon be put to a full vote, would simply add domestic violence victims to the categories of classes already protected against housing discrimination under state law. (It would also make it illegal to discriminate against renters who receive federal housing assistance such as Section 8 — the landlords aren’t crazy about that idea either.)
This wouldn’t require landlords to rent to victims of domestic abuse. It would only mean that they couldn’t deny housing to a renter solely because he/she was a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
The difficulties domestic violence victims face in obtaining safe, stable housing is well documented, so much so that the American Bar Association has strongly urged adoption of anti-discrimination laws at the federal, state and local levels. Landlords with zero-tolerance crime policies often toss out both the abused and the abuser when violence occurs. Or when pre-screening tenants who have been victimized, landlords may rule them out because of incidents at previous rentals. The federal Violence Against Women Act prohibits public housing complexes from evicting or denying admission to domestic violence victims. (The victim generally has to certify that the abuse is bona fide.) But it does not protect women in private housing.
Housing advocates in NH are firmly behind the bill. Among the supporters is William Caselden, the respected affordable housing developer whose firm, Great Bridge Properties, won an important suit against the town of Ossipee that forced local officials to lift an illegal ban on new multifamily housing. (See Chapter 6 in Snob Zones.) Great Bridge owns many of its housing developments, so Caselden has plenty of experience as a landlord.
But the landlord lobby has identified the bill as “the most critical” legislation to kill. They have dreamed up all kinds of doomsday scenarios in which landlords become the victims. Troublesome renters will make a single call to police or a domestic violence center solely so they can obtain protected status “for life.” Victims will routinely invite their abusers back in to live with them and put all the other tenants in the building at risk. (This ignores the fact that landlords can take action against a violent abuser.) Landlords will be forced to rent to all applicants with a history of domestic violence or housing assistance to avoid getting slapped with an anti-discrimination lawsuit. History contradicts that last claim, according to Housing Action NH:
Seven years ago, additional “protected classes” were added to the housing discrimination law (to cover “age”, “marital status,” and “sexual orientation”). Since then, a total of only 21 complaints have been filed with the NH Human Rights Commission. Also, all housing discrimination complaints under HB 1409 would have to be filed with the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission, which has an informal administrative process and encourages mediation.
21 complaints in seven years? I think the landlords should be able to live with that. At least 15 states and jurisdictions already have laws in place that prohibit the eviction of a tenant because of domestic violence and/or housing discrimination against domestic violence victims.