Domestic Violence and Housing
last updated August 2013
For victims of domestic violence, “housing is not a peripheral issue, or an issue that can be postponed for resolution later on. Rather, for women who fear for their safety and for their lives, housing is an immediate and pivotal issue on which the question of escape itself rests.”[1] Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies housing as a necessary part of the right to adequate living conditions.  Gender bias in property rights and economic inequalities present women with unique barriers to obtaining adequate housing, as recognized by the United Nations (UN) in the Addendum to 2000 Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.  Housing is an especially important concern for victims of domestic violence.  To escape their abusers, women must be able to obtain alternative housing or to evict the abuser from the home.
Victims of domestic violence face numerous economic obstacles to obtaining and keeping housing.  Women who are financially dependent on their abusers and women whose abusers control their assets lack the economic means to leave their abusers without risking homelessness.  In the U.S., it is estimated that 63% of homeless women were victims of domestic violence.[2] Shortages of affordable housing can have the same effect. Privatization of housing in Central and Eastern Europe has led to dramatic price increases. A 2003 report on domestic violence and housing in Georgia found “the lack of adequate housing to be one of the main discouraging factors for women to seek divorce; to rescue themselves from perpetrators; [and] to rest and find forces for rehabilitation” (Dadunashvili, et al, “Violence Against Women and Right to Adequate Housing: the Case of Georgia,” October 2003).  Research on domestic violence in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan has revealed similar situations in these countries. Housing costs and shortages are also a concern in the United States.  According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 12 million households currently pay more than half their annual income for housing costs. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that 46% of homeless women in Minnesota said “they had previously stayed in abusive relationships because they had nowhere to go” and that in 36% of U.S. cities, “domestic violence was a primary cause of homelessness.”[3]
Housing policies, including lease agreements, can further complicate a battered woman’s situation.  The nature of domestic abuse often makes it necessary for a woman to leave her home immediately, but if she is the lessee of the housing unit, she may incur financial penalties for violation of her lease.  Payment of such penalties is economically unfeasible for many women. Battered women may also have trouble during the application process for housing.  They may have been evicted because of their partner’s violence or fled their abuser in violation of a lease, and fighting their abuser in self-defense can be seen as “violent criminal history.” 
For many years, women in living in federally-funded housing in the U.S. could be evicted along with their abusive partner for his criminal activity.[4] But, this changed with the 2005 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which prohibited public housing authorities from denying housing or evicting solely on the basis of domestic violence. In 2013, this protection was expanded to include other federally-subsidized programs.
In many parts of the world, ideas about property rights can make it difficult for a woman to evict an abusive partner, particularly if the abuser’s name is on the lease or deed to the property. In Ukraine, the Constitution’s provision for the right to housing has been interpreted to protect the right of an abuser to remain in the home.
“[Interviewees] interpreted equal rights to mean that the government may not infringe on men’s rights in order to protect women’s rights, just as it would be wrong to infringe on women’s rights to protect men…. when explaining why she had no authority to order an abusive man to leave the house, a judge stated that ‘everyone has a right to somewhere to live, so we can’t deny a man that right.’ Based on the application of the law, it appears that in the hierarchy of rights in Ukraine, personal property rights supersede a woman’s right to live free from violence in her own home. Lawyers and judges both maintained that the law in Ukraine is very rarely used to exclude a man from his home.”[5]
In 2008, Ukraine amended its Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence, making protective orders valid for up to 90 days. Advocates note, however, that orders for protection only apply when the woman is residing outside of the family home and do not prevent the abuser from continuing to live in the home with the victim.[6]
Shelters and safehouses have been an important part of the response to battered women’s housing needs by providing a temporary safe place for women to stay.  Some also offer long-term transitional housing where women can have still have access to the services of the shelter as they prepare to move to a permanent housing situation.  While shelters provide much-needed temporary housing, they do not solve the problem of a lack of affordable housing.  In CEE/FSU, there has also been a serious shortage of shelters, in part due to the lack of affordable housing.  Advocacy groups have created crisis centers and hotlines in an effort to respond to domestic violence.
Advocates and attorneys in the U.S. and CEE/FSUhave had success enacting changes that help victims of domestic violence obtain secure housing.  In the US, the Violence Against Women Act has continuously expanded protections in housing available to victims of domestic violence, but inadequate funding leaves many needs unmet.[7] In addition, a favorable decision by the US District Court of Vermont in Bouley v. Young-Sabourin found evicting victims of domestic violence to be a form of sex discrimination, unlawful under the US Fair Housing Act. Bouley v. Young-Sabourin, 03-CV-320, (D.VT. March 10, 2005) (order denying motion for summary judgment).
In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing reported that the “recognition that women’s housing security is vital to their ability to leave a violent relationship is spreading, and efforts have been made at national level, resulting the promulgation of new domestic laws.”[8] Under Serbia’s 2005 Family Law, courts can order the removal of an abusive partner from the family home regardless of ownership.[9] Bulgarian law also allows the victim to seek an order that directs her abuser to leave the housing unit and to stay away from the victim.
While there is still a huge unmet need for shelters and housing alternatives for battered women,[10] positive changes are taking place throughout the world. The Global Network of Women’s Shelters, which was established after the first World Conference on Women’s Shelters in 2008, has “strengthened communication and knowledge exchange among practitioners.”[11] In 2012, the Second World Conference of Women’s Shelters was held in Washington, D.C.
Additional Resources:
For information on shelters, including guiding principles, planning and design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation, see Tracy Gierman and Arla Liska, Shelter for Women and Girls at Risk of or Survivors of Violence (2013).
For CEE/FSU-specific information on available protections for women victims of violence, see Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE), Country Report 2012: Reality Check on European Services for Women and Children Survivors of Violence (2012).
Office on Violence Against Women, “Violence Against Women Act”.

[1] UN Women, Safe and affordable housing (quoting Centre in Housing Rights and Evictions, 2006), accessed August 2, 2013,
[2] “Housing: Legislative Policies and Actions,” National Network to End Domestic Violence, accessed August 2, 2013,
[3] ACLU, Domestic Violence and Homelessness (2004), accessed August 14, 2013,
[4] Ibid.
[5] The Advocates for Human Rights, Domestic Violence in Ukraine (2000), accessed August 2, 2013,
[6] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “Ukraine: Domestic violence including state protection available to victims; support services and availability of state-supported shelters; recourse available to women who are stalked or harassed by their former spouses,” 16 August 2010, UKR103539.E, accessed August 2, 2013,
[7] “Housing: Legislative Policies and Actions,” National Network to End Domestic Violence, accessed August 2, 2013,
[8] Human Rights Council, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, Raquel Rolnik,” 26 December 2011, UN Doc. A/HRC/19/53, at ¶ 22, accessed August 2, 2013,
[9] Ibid.
[10] “WAVE Statistics,” Women Against Violence Europe, accessed August 2, 2013,
[11] Tracy Gierman and Arla Liska, Shelter for Women and Girls at Risk of or Survivors of Violence, 8 (2013), accessed August 2, 2013,