The investigation was initiated by the Equal Rights Center, a Washington fair-housing advocacy group that has conducted civil-rights testing for 25 years. The study, done in January and February, covered 93 rental properties. It found that in 65 percent of the cases of domestic-abuse victims seeking housing, they were denied it outright or offered disadvantageous conditions to get an apartment.The center had a staff person pose as an advocate calling on behalf of domestic violence survivors to various leasing agents. In 9% of cases she was denied an apartment, and in 56% of cases she was offered adverse terms and conditions for occupancy. The same leasing agents were then contacted by another woman on the same day who stated that she was looking for an apartment for herself. She was always offered the apartment though the study controlled for factors other than family violence.
The study was intended to calculate the extent of the problem one year after a law took effect in the District to protect victims of domestic violence from being denied rental housing, said Rabbi Bruce E. Kahn, the center's executive director. The legislation was designed, in part, to stem homelessness among women and children, who make up about half the city's homeless population. The leading cause of homelessness among women is domestic violence, advocates say.
Kathy Zeisel, a lawyer with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said the bias landlords and leasing agents have against victims of domestic violence comes from the stereotypical images that exist in society at large.
"They think that the mere presence of a victim of domestic abuse will cause danger to everyone around them in the apartment building," Zeisel said. "The stereotype is that they will invite the batterer back into the household or that they'll just continue to get into the same bad relationships. . . . But safe housing is really a key part in [the victim] being able to get away from that situation."This same bias was shown in Wisconsin when the Safe Housing Act was enacted. Opponents to the bill worried that allowing victims of domestic violence to leave their lease would not "protect the other tenants."