Senators Urge HUD to Issue Guidance on How Nuisance Ordinances May Violate Laws
Twenty-nine senators, led by Senator Al Franken (D-MN), recently sent a letter to HUD Secretary Julián Castro urging HUD to provide written guidance regarding how local nuisance ordinances may violate the Fair Housing Act and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The letter states, “Nuisance ordinances established by local governments across the nation are penalizing victims for calls requesting police protection or emergency assistance for crimes occurring at their homes. In most cases, landlords are forced to evict tenants who made the call for help or face significant fines, loss of rental permits, or property foreclosure. As an unintended consequence, individuals, particularly those who are victims of crime, are being removed from their homes when they are at their most vulnerable.”
The senators write that nuisance ordinances have a disproportionate impact on victims of domestic violence, increasing their housing insecurity and their likelihood of becoming homeless. “Nuisance ordinances exacerbate the link between homelessness and domestic violence by designating calls for police assistance or criminal activity as nuisances, even when the tenant is the victim,” the senators write.
Nuisance ordinances label a property as a nuisance when the property is the site of a certain number of calls for police—for example, three times in six months. Nuisance activities can include assault, harassment, stalking, and disorderly conduct. Nuisance ordinances usually apply regardless of whether a resident was a victim of the nuisance activity. Once given a citation, property owners typically are instructed to “abate the nuisance” or face steep penalties. Many owners respond by evicting the tenant (who can be the victim of the crime), refusing to renew her lease, or instructing tenants not to call 911.
According to the letter, “Regardless of whether a locality intended to discriminate against victims of domestic violence, nuisance ordinances run contrary to the Fair Housing Act if they have a disproportionate impact on women. . . . Nuisance ordinances violate VAWA when they require or encourage housing providers to evict or deny housing to survivors of domestic violence.”