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Domestic abuse and housing

The risk of homelessness is one of the many pressures faced by victims of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. They face the difficult choice between returning to the perpetrator or risking poverty or the loss of a home.

Abusers often compound their abuse by manipulating their victims' finances. They provide only small allowances for daily needs, devastate a victim's credit through its overuse, prohibit a spouse from being employed and disrupt the victim's employment.

Leaving an abuser who co-owns the residence is fraught with obstacles. The perpetrator may withhold payment of expenses such as taxes and mortgage payments and compel foreclosure or bankruptcy. They may also sensationalize emotional distress over the children's housing, schooling and activities.

There are many obstacles for obtaining affordable housing. Landlords often punish the victim for the abuser's behavior. The abuser's actions often lead to frequent police calls, property damage, the victim's inability to pay rent and disruptions when the abuser shows up.

Many Pennsylvania communities have ordinances which make landlords evict tenants when the police are repeatedly called. This punishes domestic violence victims who often need police intervention. Rental histories often contain these evictions which jeopardize future attempts to obtain affordable housing.

Federal and state laws do afford some protections. The federal Violence Against Women Act prohibits public housing providers or landlords from denying housing or evicting an abuse victim because of their abuse. The Fair Housing Act prohibits public and private landlords from discriminating against tenants because of their gender. This applies to domestic violence victims who are mostly women.

Pennsylvania's Human Relations Act also prohibits discrimination because of gender which includes domestic violence victims. This governs public providers and landlords of private residences.

A victim may also seek a protection abuse order from a court. This restraining order may prohibit an abuser from residing in the couple's home or even from being within its proximity.

Child custody laws, however, may also complicate locating new housing. Before relocating with children, a parent must comply with laws and procedures or face the possibility of losing custody or even kidnapping charges.

Seeking housing is only one of the many challenges and domestic problems faced by these victims. Legal assistance should be sought immediately to help assure that victims have access to all available legal protections.

Source: Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "Housing," Accessed July 25, 2016

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