PHOENIX — A domestic violence survivor and single mother of two filed a federal lawsuit today against the city of Surprise, Arizona, for a law that pressures landlords to evict tenants who place more than four calls to police in 30 days or for crimes occurring at the property, even when the tenant is the victim.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, and private firm Aiken Schenk Hawkins & Ricciardi P.C. represent Nancy Markham in Nancy Markham v. City of Surprise. The groups argue enforcement of the nuisance ordinance violates Ms. Markham’s First Amendment right to seek police assistance and disregards the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on gender discrimination, among other claims.
“Police protection is one of the most basic services the government provides. For domestic violence survivors, it may be their only means to safety,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “The nuisance law ignores the needs of victims, empowers abusers to act without fear of police intervention, and increases victims’ vulnerability to both homelessness and future violence by pressuring landlords to remove them from housing.”
Between March and September 2014, Markham’s ex-boyfriend choked her, punched her, and threatened her with weapons. A Surprise police officer then enforced the nuisance ordinance by notifying her landlord about the police calls and encouraging Markham’s eviction. In September 2014, the property manager of Markham’s apartment notified her that she would be evicted for having violated the law, even though the police never mentioned the law to Markham during any of her calls.
“Rather than protect public safety, these laws put domestic violence survivors in danger,” said Nancy Markham. “When you are dealing with constant abuse as I was, you may need police protection on multiple occasions. The Surprise ordinance punished me for seeking much-needed emergency assistance.”
When the law passed in June 2010, the William E. Morris Institute for Justice and others warned the Surprise City Council that the policy would increase the vulnerability of domestic violence victims, but the city passed the law anyway.
“Laws like the Surprise nuisance ordinance unfairly impact victims of domestic violence and force them to choose between stable housing and protecting themselves and their families from their abusers,” said cooperating attorney Heather A. Macre of Aiken Schenk Hawkins & Ricciardi P.C. “This is a choice no one should have to make.”