In Pennsylvania Town, Women Face Eviction For Being Domestically Abused

In Norristown, Pa., police threatened to evict a woman over reports of domestic violence against her. Under the town’s “disorderly behavior ordinance,” landlords and tenants are punished for three instances of so-called “disorderly conduct” within a four-month period, which includes calls to the police by anyone, even when they are to report domestic violence. Laws like this one deter victims from calling the police for fear of being evicted. And even when they don’t call the police, the calls of neighbors or others can still lead to their eviction. The ACLU’s Sandra Park explains:

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.

This sort of discrimination is one of the reasons domestic violence victims are at particular risk for homelessness, with landlords evicting tenants based on the conduct of their abuser, including when an abuser has broken into a victim’s home. “Nuisance ordinances” and “crime-free ordinances” exacerbate this problem, resulting in frequent nuisance citations for instances of domestic violence that are then used against victims in eviction proceedings. Historically, the threat of eviction was particularly grave for those in public housing . A strict one-strike rule permits eviction of tenant families in public housing if any household member or guest has engaged in criminal activity. But crucial provisions in the Violence Against Women Act amended this rule to exempt domestic violence victims. The ACLU filed suit yesterday to challenge the statute, citing VAWA and the Fair Housing Act.