Nuisance and Crime-Free Ordinances Initiative

Working to prevent survivors of domestic and sexual violence from having to choose between calling for help and losing their home

Local nuisance or “crime-free housing” ordinances and policies typically single out properties where alleged “nuisance” activity—such as calls for emergency services or noise disturbances—occur. Such ordinances and policies aim to hold a tenant and/or owner responsible for this conduct through fines, evictions, or other penalties. In at least one  jurisdiction, the penalty for violating the local nuisance ordinance is being prohibited from renting within the entire jurisdiction for up to six months.

Such laws and policies may consider incidents of domestic violence – or a certain number of calls for police or emergency assistance—as “nuisance” activities. As HUD observed in its 2016 guidance on the topic, jurisdictions may not distinguish between perpetrating acts of domestic violence and being the victim of such violence when identifying “nuisance” conduct; or, overly broad nuisance and crime-free ordinances may include “conduct such as disturbing the peace, excessive noise, [or] disorderly conduct,” which in turn can cover domestic violence incidents.

Nuisance and crime-free laws, with related programs and policies, impose unreasonable choices on survivors of domestic and sexual violence – making them have to choose between calling for emergency assistance or losing their home. Such ordinances also negatively impact communities of color and persons experiencing disabilities.

The following laws may offer protections against harmful nuisance and crime-free ordinances:

  • The Fair Housing Act and similar state laws that prohibit sex, race, and disability discrimination;
  • The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA);
  • Other fair housing laws that protect residents, including on the basis of disability;
  • The U.S. Constitution (and related state constitutional rights), including First Amendment rights; and
  • State and local laws that limit nuisance evictions or penalties that adversely impact survivors or other populations.

Advocates, led by the efforts of organizations such as the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law have challenged these ordinances. Additionally, some states have passed laws that aim to protect survivors from the negative impacts of nuisance ordinances, such as Illinois (provisions 65 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 5/1-2-1.5, 55 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 5/5-1005.10), Minnesota, Iowa (provisions Iowa Code Ann. §§ 562A.27B, 562B.25B, 331.304(11), and 364.3(11)), and Pennsylvania.

NHLP is available for training and technical assistance related to nuisance and crime-free ordinances. For more information, or to make a request for training or technical assistance, please contact Renee Williams, rwilliams@nhlp.org.

Please check back for updates as we add more resources to this webpage.

NHLP Resources for Advocates

Getting Evicted for Calling the Police: Nuisance Ordinances and Their Impacts on Domestic Violence Survivors – Information for Local Advocates (2018)

This brief question-and-answer resource provides advocates with an introduction to the topic of nuisance and crime-free ordinances, and how such ordinances can negatively affect survivors of domestic violence and other populations.

NHLP Resources for Local Governments

Nuisance Ordinances and Their Impacts on Domestic Violence Survivors: An Introduction for Local Governments (2018)

This brief question-and-answer resource provides local jurisdictions with a basic introduction to the topic of nuisance ordinances, and how such ordinances can impact survivors of domestic violence who seek assistance.

NHLP Trainings

Housing Rights for Domestic Violence: Providing Refuge – A Legal Training (June 2018)

This training focuses on several topics related to housing rights for survivors, including the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, the intersection between domestic violence and fair housing, and nuisance and crime-free ordinances.

Domestic Violence and Fair Housing (April 2018)

This training focuses on the intersection between domestic violence and fair housing; the presentation highlighted the issue of nuisance and crime-free ordinances.

Federal Government Guidance

U.S. Department of Justice, HUD Issues Fair Housing Act Guidance to Help Domestic Violence Victims (November 2016)

In November 2016, several divisions of the Department of Justice – Office on Violence Against Women, the Office on Community Oriented Policing Services, and the Office of Justice Programs – issued a statement about the HUD guidance. The statement calls upon local governments, housing providers, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to review the HUD guidance and examine nuisance and crime-free ordinances, as well as crime-free housing programs, to ensure that these local approaches are not discriminatory.

HUD, Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Enforcement of Local Nuisance and Crime-Free Housing Ordinances Against Victims of Domestic Violence, Other Crime Victims, and Others Who Require Police or Emergency Services (September 2016)

This guidance examines how the enforcement of nuisance ordinances and crime-free housing ordinances could violate the Fair Housing Act. Since the overwhelming majority of domestic violence survivors are women, any policies or practices that affect survivors may constitute sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. This HUD guidance focuses on the effect that the enforcement of nuisance and crime-free housing ordinances may have on survivors of domestic violence.

NHLP Summary of HUD Guidance

Select Cases

Briggs v. Norristown (HUD Conciliation Agreement 2014)

A domestic violence survivor sued the Borough of Norristown challenging an ordinance that penalized landlords with tenants who called the police too many times during a certain period. The ordinance did not have an exception for domestic violence survivors seeking police protection from their abusers. As part of the private settlement agreement and HUD Conciliation Agreement, Norristown repealed the ordinance, paid the plaintiff damages, and created an education and outreach program, including a brochure regarding rights under the Fair Housing Act. Further, the agreement mandated that Norristown require certain town officials and employees to undergo fair housing training with an emphasis in sex and disability discrimination. For more information on the Briggs case, please see the ACLU’s website.

City of Berlin, NH (HUD Conciliation Agreement 2015)

HUD filed a fair housing complaint against the City of Berlin alleging that the City’s ordinance requiring landlords to evict tenants cited three or more times for “disorderly behavior” was illegally discriminatory as it had a disproportionate effect on women who were domestic violence survivors. The HUD Conciliation Agreement required the City to amend the ordinance to exempt incidents where the resident is a victim of domestic violence.

 

Markham v. City of Surprise et.al, (Settlement Agreement 2016)

In April 2016, the ACLU reached a settlement agreement with the City of Surprise, Arizona requiring Surprise to repeal their nuisance ordinance and agree not to adopt an ordinance or policy that penalizes or punishes tenants, residents, or landlords for calls for police service, or penalizes or punishes them for criminal activity of which they are the victims. The agreement and a subsequent court order provided for over $200,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees and costs. For more information on the Markham case, please see the ACLU’s website.

Additional Resources

American Civil Liberties Union, “I Am Not a Nuisance” Website

The ACLU website contains information and case documents about the ACLU’s groundbreaking efforts to combat nuisance ordinances’ negative impacts on survivors of domestic violence.

Temple University Beasley School of Law, The Policy Surveillance Program, “City Nuisance Property Ordinances”

This resource (last updated August 1, 2017), provides detailed information about nuisance ordinances in the 40 most populous U.S. cities.