In municipalities throughout the country, nuisance laws unfairly penalize victims of domestic violence. These laws often require or encourage landlords to evict tenants if the police are called to their homes a certain number of times. In Pennsylvania alone, at least 31 communities have these nuisance laws on the books — including Pittsburgh. But as of last week, domestic violence victims in Norristown, Pennsylvania will no longer face eviction for seeking help, thanks to a lawsuit settlement that overturned the ordinance. This victory is a huge step forward for victims of domestic violence, as it will hopefully pave the way for the remaining nuisance laws in Pennsylvania and around the country to be repealed.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Pennsylvania and law firm Pepper Hamilton on behalf of Lakisha Briggs. Ms. Briggs is a resident of Norristown who was threatened with eviction after she called the police on her abusive ex-boyfriend. Norristown had a nuisance ordinance that encouraged landlords to evict tenants if the police were called to their home for “disorderly behavior.” Under this law, a tenant could be evicted if she called 911 three times in four months. Afraid to lose her home, Ms. Briggs did not call the police when her ex-boyfriend attacked her again — even when he hit her with a brick and stabbed her in the neck. This last assault required Ms. Briggs to be airlifted to the hospital, yet she was still threatened with eviction because neighbors called 911 on her behalf. Ultimately, the borough of Norristown agreed to settle the case, paying Ms. Briggs and her attorneys $495,000 and repealing the ordinance. The town also agreed to not enact a similar law in the future. Ms. Briggs stated that she “was relieved that no other family will have to choose between their safety and their home.”
According to the ACLU, Norristown’s nusiance law was part of a growing trend across the country. These laws disproportionately affect domestic violence victims and women of color; according to one study in Milwaukee, domestic violence is the third most common reason that police issued nuisance citations. The result is that domestic violence victims — like Ms. Briggs — are not able to use emergency services and protections, for fear of being evicted or having a citation issued.
If you are outraged by laws that would prevent victims of domestic violence from seeking help, get involved! In Pennsylvania, House Bill 1796 would prohibit local municipalities from enacting laws that would penalize victims of domestic violence and other crimes for seeking help. You can read more about this proposed bill here, including why our statewide organization, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, encourages lawmakers to pass it in its original form. Find your state legislators here, and let them know that you support House Bill 1796 in its original form!
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