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Nuisance Laws Punish Domestic Violence Victims

Second Nexus

Imagine this. A victim of domestic violence lives with her 3-year-old daughter in her rental apartment. Her violent ex-boyfriend is released from prison after serving time for previous assaults against her. He unleashes another attack, gashing her head with a broken ashtray and leaving a four-inch stab wound in her neck. Before passing out, the victim begs her neighbor not to call 911. Why? If someone calls, the victim and her toddler will be evicted under her town’s nuisance ordinance.

The Unintended Reach of Nuisance Laws

This victim, Lakisha Briggs, is one of many victims across the country faced with eviction due to the enforcement of local public nuisance ordinances.

Second Nexus
Lakisha Briggs, a domestic violence victim in Norristown, Pa., faced eviction due to a public nuisance ordinance. Credit: Source.

These laws come in various forms, but they typically penalize a landlord who refuses to evict a tenant who has made a threshold number of calls to the police within a certain time frame.

These laws were largely promulgated to target drug and weapon crimes. However, in practice, the laws penalize victims of domestic violence far more frequently. This is because in many communities, domestic violence calls make up the largest category of calls to police departments. The effect is compounded because most municipalities’ ordinances apply regardless of who perpetrated the conduct or called the police, and do not take into account whether the call was necessary to protect the victim’s health or safety.

While the exact number of these ordinances nationwide is unknown, it is undoubtedly high. In Illinois alone, there are over 100 such laws, and The New York Times reports the number is still growing nationwide, despite the disproportionate harm they 

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