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Ask an Advocate: What Are My Housing Options?

December 19, 2017

Through our Ask an Advocate series, we’re answering common questions about domestic violence that survivors and their family members may have. Read them all here.  

Dear Ned,

I have decided to divorce my abusive husband. I want to stay in the apartment with our three young children, but his name is on the lease and not mine. We live in Section 8 housing. It took us so long to be placed in housing. If we didn’t have this apartment, my kids and I would have nowhere to live. I’ve heard about people being evicted for fights that happen in their homes. I think my landlord and neighbors suspect that the abuse is happening, but I’m too scared to come forward about it in case he evicts us. Can my landlord evict my husband, but not me? How can I keep the apartment without having to live with him any longer?


Feeling Trapped

Dear Feeling Trapped,

It is definitely hard to protect yourself from abuse when you do not have control over all of your finances or housing, which is common in domestic violence cases. It’s concerning that you have heard of victims being evicted when they need help the most. You should know that you should not be scared and that there are laws designed to protect and assist people in your very situation.

Federal protections under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and many times local housing protections, make it illegal for your landlord to evict you and your children because you are victims of domestic violence. Moreover, the Violence Against Women Act protects you from being denied housing because you are a victim of domestic violence in the event that you want or need to move. The only exception to be aware of is if your landlord can prove there is an “actual and imminent threat” to other tenants or staff if you are not evicted.

In order to protect yourself and your children, the Violence Against Women Act clearly states that your landlord can evict your husband while you and your children are able to stay. If the Section 8 was based solely on your husband’s eligibility, then you have the right to prove eligibility for the housing and need to income qualify. Your landlord may be asked for documentation to verify your husband’s abuse. Your landlord must keep this information confidential as well.

There are a few ways to get documentation of the abuse. There is a one page HUD self-certification (HUD form 5382) form that you can use to document the abuse  in order to proceed with bifurcating the lease. Bifurcating the lease is a basically just removing your abuser from the lease and adding your name to the lease. You can also verify abuse with a police or court record, or signed documentation from a domestic violence service provider, attorney, or a medical professional stating that they believe that you experienced acts of domestic violence.

If you do not have documentation already, you can speak to an advocate and find a local domestic violence program by calling the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224. An advocate and program can also assist you in discussing this with your landlord and ensuring that you have all the protections granted under the law. They can also assist you with safety planning as you leave the relationship to help keep you and your children safe during this time.

If in this process you need any legal information or referrals, or just someone to talk to, do not hesitate to reach out to our WomensLaw team at