Evicted for Reporting Domestic Abuse
When Kathy Cleaves-Milan’s boyfriend brandished a gun and promised to end both of their lives is she left him she knew it was time to involve the police, if not for herself for the sake of her daughter.
She made the call to police and got help, but a day later she received some surprising news: She was being evicted.
Why? According to the managers of the complex, she had violated the terms of her lease by reporting criminal activity to the police – that is for reporting her boyfriend’s death threats.
“I was punished for protecting myself and my daughter,” Cleaves-Milan, 36, said.
Did they expect her to choose between staying with her abusive boyfriend or keeping a roof over her families head?
Cleaves-Milan’s lawyers have filed a suit against Aimco, the company that owns and operates Elm Creek Apartments, arguing that her eviction was a form of sex discrimination based on her sex and status as a domestic violence victim. Aimco, however, argues that the eviction wasn’t solely based on the domestic violence, but also on Cleaves-Milan’s ability to make rent without her boyfriend.
So while the company admits that Cleaves-Milan’s status as a domestic violence victim certainly influenced their decision to serve her with eviction papers, they also assumed that a single woman would be unable to make rent without a man by her side.
Cleaves-Milan says her income being a factor in her eviction is “simply untrue.” Aimco further maintains that Cleaves-Milan, who worked in medical sales at the time, actually left the complex on her own accord because she could not afford to stay without her boyfriend’s financial support – another false and ridiculous claim.
To add insult to injury, this past July Cleaves-Milan received a call from a collection agency seeking nearly $3,800 they claimed she owed for the early termination of her lease. She returned home a day after telling police her boyfriend threatened to kill her to find a 10-day eviction notice taped to her door. She didn’t terminate her lease early – she was given no choice in the matter. Luckily Aimco dropped this fee, but only after the Chicago Tribune inquired.
This story is horrific and unfortunately not uncommon. While the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 protects domestic abuse victims who live in public or subsidized housing from eviction, the law concerning private landlords is unclear. This lack of protection for women who rent in the private market creates a disincentive for women to report abuse, trapping women, and often their children, in violent relationships with no legal recourse.
Women like Cleaves-Milan should not have to choose between their safety and that of their families and having a roof over their heads. They also shouldn’t worry that reporting abuse will leave them without health insurance as we discovered last week was the case in 8 states and D.C. Reporting domestic abuse, getting help, and leaving violent relationships is difficult enough without the support of our judicial and healthcare system.
Where is the justice – or humanity – in having victims of abuse, those who need our help most, suffer more?
Picture via Chicago Tribune - http://dailyme.com/gallery/2009101500002267/victims-domestic-violence-call-lead-eviction.html