The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against Norristown, Pennsylvania, accusing the town of encouraging landlords to evict tenants who frequently call the police.
The ACLU claims this policy inflicts damage on minorities and victims of domestic violence, reports AlterNet.org.
The lawsuit said that the town's policy allowed police officers to charge Lakisha Briggs with a “disorderly behavior ordinance” after cops were called to her home for a third time on May 23, 2012.
After the officers arrested her boyfriend, one police officer said to Briggs: “You are on three strikes. We’re going to have your landlord evict you,” claims the ACLU.
According to city policy, a “disorderly behavior” violation results in a financial penalty for the landlord, if a tenant calls the police three times in a four-month period.
According to the ACLU:
After her first "strike," Ms. Briggs was terrified of calling the police. She did not want to do anything to risk losing her home. So even when her now ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick, she did not call. And later, when he stabbed her in the neck, she was still too afraid to reach out. But both times, someone else did call the police. Based on these "strikes," the city pressured her landlord to evict.
After a housing court refused to order an eviction, the city said it planned to condemn the property and forcibly remove Ms. Briggs from her home. The ACLU intervened, and the city did not carry out its threats, and even agreed to repeal the ordinance. But just two weeks later, Norristown quietly passed a virtually identical ordinance that imposes fines on landlords unless they evict tenants who obtain police assistance, including for domestic violence.
The ACLU claims that the "three strike" limit violates a renters' First Amendment right to petition the government and contradicts Violence Against Women Act.
Norristown is not alone. Cities across America have passed similar rules called “nuisance ordinances” or “crime free ordinances.”
Professors from Harvard and Columbia Universities examined these laws in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a study published in the American Sociological Review.
“Nearly a third of all [nuisance] citations were generated by domestic violence,” said the study. “Properties in black neighborhoods disproportionately received citations, and those located in more integrated black neighborhoods had the highest likelihood of being deemed nuisance."
The lawsuit is asking for damages, legal fees, temporary immunity from the ordinance and declaration that the law is unconstitutional.