York’s Nuisance Abatement Ordinance Punishes Sufferers of Domestic Abuse
October is domestic violence awareness month, a period during which the nation focuses its efforts and dialogue on the challenges to creating safer, gentler communities. It’s time we bring the conversation home and take a look at just one of the ways in which that struggle manifests itself in York.
Call 911, Get Evicted
It’s reasonable to assume that calling law enforcement to report abuse is always good advice. But in cities like York, which have enacted nuisance abatement laws that penalize landlords and tenants for incidents involving police response, reporting abuse to the authorities can lead to evictions and homelessness.
York’s law does not even require conviction under any state or local statutes to establish whether a public nuisance exists; simply having the police respond to a home can be enough to trigger public nuisance penalties. Penalties up to and including revocation of occupancy/rental licenses and eviction of tenants, even if the incidents occurred as the result of emergency assistance or criminal abuse.
The ACLU reached a $495,000 settlement in a case that challenged a Norristown nuisance abatement ordinance similar to the one on the books in York. The York County Libertarian Party echoes the ACLU’s position that nuisance abatement laws violate the First Amendment right to petition government, which includes the right of individuals to summon law enforcement.
Lakisha Briggs, litigant in the Norristown nuisance abatement case, describes a dilemma that residents in municipalities like York face on a daily basis:
“I had no choice but to let him stay,” said Ms. Briggs, 34, a certified nursing assistant, even though, she said in an interview, she worried about the safety of her 3-year-old daughter as well as her own.
“If I called the police to get him out of my house, I’d get evicted,” she said. “If I physically tried to remove him, somebody would call 911 and I’d be evicted.” Victims’ Dilemma: 911 Calls Can Bring Eviction
Nuisance abatement laws also serve to reinforce the types of gender biases and victim-blaming that often lead to women being evicted from their homes as a consequence of suffering from domestic violence.
In response to this troublesome reality, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a separate complaint against the City of Norristown citing concerns over enforcement of its nuisance ordinance.
In a 2013 letter to the DOJ and HUD, Senator Bob Casey also cited York as one of several municipalities having ordinances on the books that may ‘inadvertently penalize domestic violence victims.’
“Domestic violence victims should never fear calling the police for help.” — Sen. Bob Casey
Repeal York’s Nuisance Abatement Ordinance
The York County Libertarian Party is calling on the City of York to repeal its nuisance abatement ordinance and grant victims of domestic violence access to law enforcement without fear of punishment and reprisal. Victims of domestic abuse should not have to choose between calling police and suffering in silence.
The ACLU is calling on anyone affected by nuisance abatement ordinances, including landlords, tenants, fair housing and domestic violence advocates to share their stories. If you have a story to share, please fill out this survey.
National Housing Law Project joined twenty-one housing organizations, domestic violence shelters and women’s rights programs in an amicus brief submitted by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence