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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tenant Challenges "Nuisance Property" Ordinance

In Norristown, Pa., landlords are responsible for the disorderly behavior of their tenants, as well as the tenants' family members and guests under a municipal ordinance.  Under the current version of the ordinance, landlords face fines if they fail to evict tenants who have repeated instances of disorderly behavior (a previous version authorized local police to evict the tenants and would revoke a landlord's license after three police responses to a property within a four month period - that ordinance had been previously repealed after the ACLU raised concerns about its constitutionality).
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of tenant Lakisha Briggs. Ms. Briggs claimed that she avoided calling police to report domestic violence incidents involving her boyfriend for fear she would be evicted.  The lawsuit alleges that the ordinance violates her First Amendment right to petition the police as well as various due process violations.  Although tenants are not automatically evicted by the amended ordinance, the lawsuit claims that landlords are "encouraged" to evict tenants with repeated police calls to avoid increasing fines, violating the tenants' due process rights.
Similar "nuisance property" ordinances have been enacted and enforced in many other communities, although many ordinances expressly exclude domestic violence incidents from the list of nuisance activities that trigger an ordinance violation. 
The case is still ongoing, with a hearing on the preliminary injunction scheduled for later this week. You can read more about the case in a recent article posted on the American Bar Association's website.


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