9/30/2013- The ACLU of Pennsylvania is suing Norristown, Pennsylvania officials over an ordinance that orders landlords to evict tenants after they place three 911 calls within four months. City officials say the ordinance is designed to promote peaceful neighborhoods and discourage nuisance calls; however, that’s not all it does.
Lakisha Briggs, 33, faced a horrifying dilemma last year when her ex-boyfriend, Wilbert Bennett, arrived at her home with the intent of causing her bodily harm. She was faced with calling the police and risk being evicted from her home or take the abuse and risk losing her life.
According to police, Bennett allegedly threatened, “You are going to be with me or you are going to be with no one.” He then proceeded to bite and tear her lip. He also smashed Briggs in the mouth with a glass ashtray and stabbed her in the neck with shards of glass from the broken ashtray.
A neighbor ended up calling the police but Briggs pleaded with him not to until she passed out from blood loss. She was airlifted to a hospital and has since recovered from her injuries.
This 911 call would have been her third call in the span of four months and thanks to the Norristown ordinance, she faced eviction. This was not the first time Bennett attacked her. He was the reason for at least one other 911 call in previous months, hence the reason she broke up with it in the first place. She was faced with losing her home because her ex felt the need to stab her in the neck with shards of glass.
According to the ordinance, landlords must evict tenants after three 911 calls within four months. The American Civil Liberties Union believes the law endangers domestic violence victims and violates their free-speech rights.
Peter Smith, a private lawyer working for the ACLU stated,
“She was so afraid to call police because after the third incident when her property was placed in a probationary period when her former boyfriend attacked her in her house. He bit and tore her lip, he struck her across her lip with a glass ashtray, and then took shards of the glass ashtray and jabbed it into her neck, Before she passed out, she refused to call police because she was afraid of losing her home.”
“I felt like I was being punished for being assaulted,” Briggs told The Associated Press.
According to the ACLU, hundreds of communities around the country have similar ordinances.
Norristown officials amended the ordinance in December, the attack took place in July. The amended ordinance gives landlords a chance to appeal any three-strikes fines in court. The city believes the ordinance is both fair and valuable.
The ACLU feels the ordinances disproportionately affect women, since they are more likely to be victims of domestic violence. They also feel that the federal Violence Against Women Act protects their housing rights.
The amended ordinance also grants exceptions for certain true emergencies, but is meant to address disorderly conduct. It also provides landlords with the right to appeal the police fine.
The concern of the amended ordinance is the ACLU believes the police have too much discretion to decide what constitutes a danger and a disturbance. Also, the landlords may appeal, but the tenants have no such right. Because of the latter concern, Judge Eduardo Robreno wondered if landlords wouldn’t just take the easy way out and just evict the tenant. There’s nothing in the ordinance that actually protects the tenant’s rights.
A trial has been ordered by Robreno to decide whether towns can force the eviction of tenants who make too many 911 calls. The case is expected to go to trial in late 2014.
Incidentally, Briggs’ landlord, Darren Sudman, supports Briggs and calls her a good tenant. She has moved since the incident.