The United States Department of Agriculture has issued guidance regarding the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This guidance applies to Section 515 Rural Rental Housing, Section 514/516 Farm Labor Housing, Section 538 Guaranteed Rural Rental Housing, and Section 533 Housing Preservation Grant programs.
VAWA protects domestic violence victims from being denied admission to, denied assistance under, termination from participation, or eviction from covered housing programs if the applicant or tenant otherwise qualifies for admission, assistance, participation, or occupancy.
Criminal activity directly related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking cannot be cause for termination of assistance, tenancy or occupancy rights of the victim.
Borrowers should allow extended absences per current policy including for the benefit of domestic violence survivors.
Borrowers must respond and consider allowing tenants to transfer another Rural Development unit if they reasonably believe they are facing an actual and imminent threat of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Rural Development will issue a letter stating the tenant may get priority placement in an available Rural Development unit. Requests to transfer to an external unit when a Rural Development unit is not available must also be urgently handled.
Borrowers must distribute the HUD-5380 Notice of Occupancy Rights, and HUD-5382 Certification of Domestic Violence form to all applicants and tenants when an individual is denied residency, when assigned a unit, and with any notice of eviction or termination of assistance.
Borrowers should prioritize victims’ requests and process emergency transfers and lease bifurcations as quickly as possible. This includes accepting verbal statements, or accepting self-certification of the domestic violence incidents. Evictions, lease bifurcations, and terminations of assistance against victims because of an actual and imminent threat should only be used when there is no other action to reduce the threat. When processing bifurcation, Borrowers should consider allowing more time to demonstrate eligibility for other programs.
Borrowers should consider adopting a preference for admission and make every effort to accept admission applications from victims at any time, even when the waiting list is closed.
Technology should be used to allow survivors to safely testify at hearings when their housing subsidy is at issue. (United States Department of Agriculture Unnumbered Letter, November 23, 2020.)