Judges Nix Town’s Attempt to Fine Landlords

landlord helpWith a population of just around 30,000, the  little town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania is getting more than its share of attention today.

An appellate court just issued a sweeping decision striking down as unconstitutional the city’s law that would have punished landlords who rented to anyone the city designated as an illegal alien with as much as a $1,000 fine,  and would have required all tenants to pay for a rental permit to gain housing within the city.

This case has been closely watched across the country because the Hazleton ordinance has served as a model for similar laws nationwide and was challenged by civil rights groups in a lengthy trial. The suit has been underway for more than four years in the federal district and circuit courts.

According to the ACLU, “today’s unanimous appeals court decision is the latest legal victory against discriminatory state and local laws that target immigrants and invite racial profiling against Latinos and others who appear foreign.”

Many cities like Fremont, Nebraska and Summerville, South Carolina have voluntarily tabled or blocked these laws under legal pressure and local opposition.

Hazleton adopted its first anti-immigrant ordinance in August 2006. A civil rights coalition including the ACLU  immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of Hazleton residents, landlords and business owners.

Thursday’s ruling upholds a July 2007 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania concluding that the Hazleton ordinances were preempted by federal law governing immigration.

During the trial, Hazleton officials claimed that undocumented immigrants were responsible for bankrupting the city, driving up healthcare costs and increasing local crime.  However, other evidence presented at the trial indicated that from 2000-2005, during a period of heavy Latino immigration from larger eastern cities,  Hazleton’s budget deficit turned to surplus,  the private hospital system made a $4 million profit and the crime rate actually fell.

See our related feature, Are Landlords Now Immigration Agents?

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