City officials in Norristown, Pennsylvania voted to repeal a rental ordinance aimed at landlords whose properties were subject to numerous police calls. The law required eviction of tenants subject to three or more police visits without providing an exception for victims.
The city agreed to pay $495,000 to a tenant who chose not to call police for help out of fear of being evicted.
Under the ordinance, landlords were directed to evict tenants when the police were called to a property three times in four months for “disorderly behavior,” which included domestic violence calls.
In this case, a police officer advised a tenant that she would be evicted under this policy after they arrested her abusive ex-boyfriend for assault. The tenant feared losing her home and did not call the police for future incidents, including one in which her ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick. Neighbors called the police after the woman’s ex-boyfriend stabbed her in the neck with broken glass. Despite the tenant being airlifted to the hospital after that incident, the city again threatened her with forcible eviction under the ordinance, according to a statement by the ACLU.
Several cities and states across the country have passed similar versions of these nuisance, or “three-strikes” laws that force landlords to file eviction actions against tenants accused of being disruptive. Aimed largely at college students, these laws typically require a landlord to evict the tenant without waiting for the disposition of any criminal charges, and in some case, without any criminal charges being filed. Fines are levied against landlords, sometimes daily, for noncompliance. In some cases, the lease agreement must be amended to track the local law in order to successfully evict tenants.
Landlords who evict victims of domestic violence risk violating local, state and federal laws, including fair housing ordinances that protect victims. New laws in several states require landlords to release domestic violence victims from a lease agreement without consequences if the tenant needs to relocate to avoid further injury.
Referring to the Norristown ordinance, Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project said that the law put lives at risk by “blaming domestic violence victims for the crimes occurring in their homes.”
The tenant has since found alternate housing and secured an order of protection against her ex-boyfriend.
In addition to repealing the ordinance, Norristown agreed that it will not adopt a similar law in the future.
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