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Tue Jul 9, 2019, 01:36 PM

Cities are punishing tenants with disabilities and domestic violence survivors for calling for help.

When Your Emergency Is a “Nuisance”
Cities are punishing tenants with disabilities and domestic violence survivors for calling for help.
By Alisha Jarwala and Sejal Singh
July 09, 2019
11:45 AM

Jane*, a resident of Bedford, Ohio, called 911 asking for help because she believed her boyfriend was suicidal. The police responded, wrote a report, and left. But the next day, Jane’s landlord got a fine and a form letter from the town’s chief of police ordering the landlord to stop the 911 calls coming from her home. Bedford had flagged Jane’s home a few months earlier because she had previously called the police when her boyfriend threatened to kill himself. When Jane called again, the city fined her landlord $250. Facing further fines and even a potential misdemeanor charge, the landlord began eviction proceedings against Jane—all because she called for help.

Jane lost her home because Bedford is one of an estimated 2,000 municipalities throughout the United States that penalize households perceived to be “nuisances” under so-called chronic nuisance ordinances (also known as CNOs and “crime-free ordinances”). A household can be defined as a nuisance if it reaches a certain threshold number of nuisance infractions—anything from arrests on the property to suspected sex work to noise complaints. Most of these ordinances will also designate homes as nuisances based on calls to 911—no matter who makes the call. The threshold number of calls varies; for example, in Maplewood, Missouri, it takes just two 911 calls within a 180-day period for a home to be deemed a “nuisance.” Landlords are then encouraged, or even legally required, to “abate the nuisance,” a legal term that effectively means that landlords have to either evict the tenants or stop them from calling 911 for help.

For tenants with mental health needs or disabilities, chronic nuisance ordinances create an impossible choice between risking eviction and forgoing help in a crisis. We spent the past year analyzing police reports and call logs from towns and cities across the Midwest—and we found case after case in which cities use chronic nuisance ordinances to push people with disabilities out of their homes.



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