Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Sarah Goodyear looks at how municipal nuisance ordinances that target "disruptive" tenants can impact the victims of domestic violence:
Imagine that you are being attacked by your abusive former boyfriend in your own home, where you are raising your three-year-old daughter. Your life is in danger.
But if you call the police, you know you might be evicted, because the law in your community requires landlords to throw tenants out if cops come to the home three times within a four-month period for "disorderly behavior."
The last time your 21-year-old daughter called the cops, they came and they told you, "You are on three strikes. We’re gonna have your landlord evict you." And so you stopped calling. Soon the boyfriend – with whom you’ve been trying to break up – saw his chance to move back in and continue his abusive behavior. You couldn’t do anything about it.
Then one night, he almost killed you by stabbing you in the neck with a piece of broken glass. One of your neighbors called the cops. You were helicoptered to a trauma center and survived. But when you came home from the hospital, the city where you have lived for 24 years had started proceedings to force you out of your apartment, against the wishes of your landlord – who stood to lose his rental license if he didn’t file eviction proceedings.
This is the story of Lakisha Briggs, as outlined in a suit filed last week (PDF) in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the law firm Pepper Hamilton are bringing the federal suit on Briggs’s behalf against the borough of Norristown, Pennsylvania.