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Nuisance codes

Do local nuisance codes restrict tenants' rights, endanger tenants safety, and make victims of domestic violence more victimized? 
In "What—and Who—Is a 'Nuisance' ”, author J. Rosie Tighe describes nuisance call ordinances like this. "Over the last 15 years, criminal activity nuisance ordinances (CANOs) have proliferated throughout the country. CANOs are local laws that penalize property owners if there are repeated incidents of criminal activity on or near their property over a set period of time." Rarely are property owners really prosecuted. Instead the threat of prosecution is used as grounds for eviction...when none exists. Sometimes owners are complicit in the nuisance call victimization. Owners can use an unsubstantiated "nuisance call" complaint to serve as "good cause" when none exists. Because formal evictions are expensive and require proof, owners depend on tenants to "cut and run" before a formal eviction is filed and challenged.

Nuisance call ordinances can be a fair housing violation when they impact of victims of domestic violence. Landlords sometimes tell tenants that they should not call the police when faced with real or potential violence...or else they will be evicted. Several Ohio cities are working to exempt domestic violence calls from nuisance call ordinances. Because most domestic violence is focused on women and children, a nuisance call ordinance is arguably another form of discrimination based on gender and familial status. A recent study by Cleveland State University has fueled grassroots movements to remove domestic violence calls from local ordinances.

Nuisance Call Codes and Tenants' Rights

    There have been a couple stories recently about local nuisance codes (codes designed to punish landlords at properties where there are excessive police calls). The problem with these codes is that just judging the number of calls from a property doesn't tell you whether the calls are frivolous, or indicative of "excessive traffic" that may signal the presence a "drug house", or calls from a victim of domestic violence. This latter case presents problems for both landlords and tenant victims.
Landlords who are warned about excessive police calls often tell tenants that they should NOT call the cops. That can leave victims of domestic violence in a quandary when an unwanted person arrives uninvited in a threatening manner 
    Legal protections for victims of domestic violence have just been extended to many types of Federal assisted housing (including low income housing tax credit housing) under the reenactment of the Violence against women that if a Federally assisted housing provider is counseling victims of domestic violence to avoid calling the cops, the housing provider could be discriminating.
    Neighbor to neighbor disputes is another way in which landlords (who are not responsible to enforce the tenant duty of peaceful enjoyment) may play into nuisance law enforcement. Landlords may want to take a second look if they have a policy of ignoring tenant-tenant disputes because when a landlord is uninvolved, tenants with a dispute have only one recourse-call the cops.
Thanks to Joyce for suggesting this article and for Kelan in supplying many of the links.

What about when calling the cops is a lease violation?
    Many tenants have lease provisions (or house rules) that make excessive police calls to be grounds for lease termination.  Is that discrimination?      Maybe...
  • If the facts show that termination for police calls is used only  against households of protected classes, the action could be discriiminatory. 
  • Even if the circumstances show that the lease provision or rule is applied evenly, it may be that households with protected classes are disproportionately affected and have grounds for a charge. 
Remember that protected classes include: race, color, religion, national origin, female head of household, families with children and persons with disability.  In Ohio, add ancestry and military status.  In Federally assisted housing add LGBT and Victims of Domestic Violence.

What to do?
1.  Individuals who believe that they may have been discriminated against are urged to contact their local Fair Housing organization. 
2.  Advocates in communities may want to investigate their municipal polices about excessive police calls to see if their programs seem to discriminate against protected classes.
3.  Advocates may want to get involved in efforts to extend Federal VAWA protections to all rental properties in Ohio. 
See HB 297

What's News?
Deputizing landlords to control tenant behavior? Not sure this is going to work. Tenants won't call when they need help for fear of termination & problems will fester.

March 20, 2018 Rooflines "What—and Who—Is a 'Nuisance' ” Author J. Rosie Tighe describes nuisance call ordinances like this. "Over the last 15 years, criminal activity nuisance ordinances (CANOs) have proliferated throughout the country. CANOs are local laws that penalize property owners if there are repeated incidents of criminal activity on or near their property over a set period of time."
November 10, 2017 Scene Magazine "How Northeast Ohio Nuisance Laws Harm Domestic Violence Victims, Minorities, Renters and People Experiencing Mental Illness"

November 9, 2017, New York Times, When Calling 911 Makes You a ‘Nuisance’ and Gets You Evicted
"Nuisance laws can force an impossible decision between risking one’s home or one’s life. Rather than face potential fines, eviction or other penalties, residents may avoid reaching out to police for help in times of crisis." Lakewood Ohio in the spotlight.

August 13, 2017 Nuisance complaint laws used to discriminate
     Relman, Dane & Colfax and the Shriver Center have filed suit against the City of Peoria, Illinois on behalf of HOPE Fair Housing. HOPE investigated the City for enforcement of its nuisance ordinance and found that the City is selectively enforcing its ordinance against African-American neighborhoods and African-American tenants, often resulting in their eviction. Many thanks to Sasha and the RDC team, who are a joy to work with.
     Thanks to KateW for sharing this info...we'll be watching for more news.

March 22, 2017 
Amend local nuisance ordinances to prevent eviction of the abused: Vanessa Hemminger and Marissa Pappas (Opinion)
"Calling the police for help should be a reassurance of your safety and security, not the first step toward homelessness. It shouldn't cross your mind that calling for help might lead to homelessness, but that concern is a reality for thousands of people throughout the country under bizarrely worded city laws that encourage the eviction of domestic violence victims."

March 12, 2017 Columbus Dispatch Evict them all and let god sort them out?
Columbus Dispatch reports "An apartment complex on the city's Near East Side that has been the site of two homicides in seven months has also been the location of several covert police investigations, Columbus officials confirmed this week. The city is building a nuisance case against the Nelson Park Apartments, which requires specific evidence of criminal activity such as drug violations, prostitution and underage drinking, said Shayla Favor, an assistant city attorney who handles cases in the area that includes parts of Downtown and the Near East Side."

September 16, 2016 Nuisance "dispossessions" continue to be a problem
When police ask local prosecutors to board up a "nuisance property" or when landlords ask police to remove a "banned" guest or resident, or when police call up a landlord and demand that the landlord evict a tenant...they are acting outside the landlord tenant law and compromising tenants rights.
At a time when the police shootings of civilians are in the news and rank and file police are pushing back against progressive reforms (here and here), the on-going problem of police use of "dispossession" to kick tenants from their homes with little or no due process continues just below the surface of public awareness. From drug busts (not convictions) that result in board up orders against bystanders to police pressure on landlords to evict "problem tenants," the stories continue because the practice of using nuisance or banning orders to push tenants into the streets continues across the country.
Add to police shootings and coverups the impunity of making tenants homeless without due process of law.

August 30, 2016 Occupancy codes can disguise discrimination
The story behind the headline " 'In gentrifying D.C., apartments for large families are quickly disappearing' doesn't really tell the whole story. Yes, economics plays a part in conflicts over local occupancy codes, but that's not the issue in this case. The real issue is the conscious reduction or large bedroom units acting as a form of housing discrimination. From the article: "Brookland’s owner, Mid-City Financial Corp., based in Germantown, Md., told the city’s Zoning Commission that four- and five-bedroom apartments 'are not consistent with the creation of a vibrant new community.' " In other words "we don't like your kind." The article continues: "Tenants’ advocates, who filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday alleging housing discrimination, interpret Mid-City’s assertions as a polite way of saying that the company is worried that the multi-generational families will make the soon-to-be-rebranded 'Brentwood Village' a harder sell to the affluent professionals flocking to the nation’s capital."
The reality is that low income and minority families often have larger households than middle income and white households. Economics and culture make larger family units a survival necessity.
More on occupancy codes take a look at "Granny meets NiMBY"

March 4, 2016 Columbus Dispatch Nuisance enforcement in Columbus proceeds deliberately
Columbus Dispatch reports the the City of Columbus is taking steps to shut down a 16 unit apartment building in the city's Hilltop District. it appears that City officials are moving in carefully to avoid unnecessary hardship on tenants who are not involved in criminal activity. "Assistant City Attorney Kristen Kroflich called the conditions at 2958 Sullivant Ave. deplorable and owner Gordon Rankin’s inattention reckless. She said some tenants have no heat, and use stoves and electric grills to warm their apartments. The steel landing is riddled with holes. 'No one should have to live in an environment like that,' Kroflich said. 'It’s not humane.'
A question remains: who pays for relocation costs? Because the city uses Federal funds for Code Enforcement activities, it is arguable that some of the displaced tenants may be eligible for relocation assistance under the Federal Uniform Relocation Act (URA). If not many will turn to private charities to help them find new homes.

February 8, 2016 NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Report on NYPD removing residents from public housing draws outrage from city officials
Outraged public officials across the city Sunday called for change in the wake of a sweeping Daily News and ProPublica report uncovering widespread use of an obscure type of lawsuit to boot hundreds of people from homes. Several City Council members said they were considering amendments and other reforms to the nuisance abatement law to safeguard against abuse. Councilwoman Vanessa L. Gibson said the statistics included in the story are “shocking.”
more here and here

11/13/15 Get abused, get Evicted
CityLab takes up the issue of nuisance call laws. in the story Get abused, Get Evicted. From the story: “The police contacted my property manager because I’d called the police too many times,” says Markham, who spoke to reporters during a media call in August. “I’d never heard of this law before.”

9/21/15 New law prevents domestic abuse victims from being evicted under 'nuisance' laws
In dozens of Illinois cities, a tenant who calls police too many times for protection from an abusive spouse or an intruding ex bent on violence can be evicted as a "nuisance." Starting Nov. 19, state law requires those cities to carve out critical exceptions for domestic battery and disability in "nuisance-property" ordinances. Two civil rights groups have blanketed the state with alerts to help cities prepare and offer assistance.


4/15/15 Some Pennsylvania towns evict tenants based on 911 calls

2/5/15 Cincinnati's Nuisance call ordinance is back in the news. In 2006, Cincinnati enacted a nuisance call ordinance which targetted owners of multifamily properties where tenants were frequently calling 911. For many reasons, including push back from both the landlord and tenant advocates...the law's been on hiatus. Now, according to Fox19 news, Mayor Cranley is looking at cranking up enforcement. Thanks to KatL for sharing
10/30/14: Police harrassment continues Despite the settlement of the Norristown ordinance which pushes landlords to evict tenants for calling the cops, liberal Oakland, California has enacted an ordinance which will 'encourage' landlords to evict sex workers for causing nuisance calls.

10/10/14 More on Norristown settlement--maybe basis for local action? A settlement in charges by HUD against the City of Norristown Pa reinforce the notion that "nuisance call" laws may be violations of Federal Fair Housing Laws. In this settlement, HUD AND PHILADELPHIA-AREA BOROUGH SETTLE ALLEGATIONS OF HOUSING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, the parties agreed to end the city's practice of requiring landlords to evict tenants for calling 911. "The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that is has reached a Conciliation Agreement with Norristown, Pennsylvania, settling allegations that the municipality violated the Fair Housing Act when it enacted ordinances that held landlords responsible for evicting tenants cited for "disorderly behavior," including domestic violence incidents, or risk being fined or losing their rental license. Norristown's City Council subsequently repealed the original law but passed a similar ordinance that same day which called for charging landlords mounting fines for tenants that display disruptive behavior." This settlement points the way towards challenging both lease provisions that restrict frequent police calls and municipal ordinances that punish landlords for failing to take action against tenants who call for police assistance. More here

3/5/14 Salem Ohio considers nuisance callers. "City Council's Committee of the Whole spent an hour Tuesday learning about the Better Landlord program, aimed at improving housing, reducing crime and rewarding good landlords. No action was taken, with Councilman Brian Whitehill, who arranged for the presentation, saying it was strictly informational at this point. He said he has talked with police Chief J.T. Panezott about the calls the department gets and learned the number of calls to rental properties are disproportionate to the number of calls involving owner-occupied properties. "That's where the calls are coming from, rental properties. The facts are the facts," Whitehill said. That disproportion can lead to increased costs for cities and that is what the Better Landlord program tries to reduce, according to Mark Kubricky, the director of Business Development for Better Landlord. "Better Landlord is a program that maintains and improves housing standards by engaging landlords to comply with local ordinances, implement effective screening / leasing policies, and diversifying properties while lowering their utilization of municipal services," the website at said. Kubricky explained the first step in establishing a program would be a disproportionate impact study to determine the mix of rental properties and owner-occupied properties and the amount of city services being used by both, such as police, fire or housing department calls for nuisances or violations. He said it has been shown that a more educated rental population means less crime and less consumption of city resources, leading to better-tended properties, stronger neighborhoods and ultimately less cost for the city. For the landlords, he said the program can lead to better tenants which leads to better payment of rent.

Some examples of Nuisance call laws

Victims’Dilemma: 911 Calls Can Bring Eviction

Law to Clean Up ‘Nuisances’ Costs Innocent People Their Homesand in Ohio

Niles police tackle nuisances with ordinance
Columbus has yet to hold landlords’ feet to fire over bad tenants
Apartment manager challenges Cincinnati's nuisance ordinance