ACLU, Civil Rights Groups, and City of Bedford, Ohio Reach Settlement Repealing the City’s Nuisance Ordinance

September 22, 2020 11:00 am

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BEDFORD, Ohio – The City of Bedford agreed to repeal its Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinance (CANO) and pay a settlement amount of $350,000 as a result of litigation brought by the ACLU, the ACLU of Ohio, and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland on behalf of Beverley Somai, a Bedford resident, and the Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research.

Under Bedford’s CANO, when two or more perceived violations of any law, excluding traffic violations, occurred near their home or involved a resident of the property within a one-year period, a warning letter would be issued to the property owner. Subsequent violations would result in imposition of penalties. Bedford implemented the ordinance to deter repeat criminal behavior, and enforced the ordinance based upon alleged violations of ordinances and calls for police or emergency assistance. The parties agreed the CANO could result in the violation of Constitutional and statutory rights and must be repealed.

Under the agreement, the city of Bedford will repeal its CANO, publish a notice of the repeal, and work with the Fair Housing Center and other community agencies on fair housing trainings. Plaintiffs Beverley Somai and the Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research brought the case in early 2019, alleging violations of their rights under the First Amendment, Due Process, and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution and violations of the state and federal Fair Housing Acts.

On her landlord’s advice, Ms. Somai made calls to the police because of ongoing issues with her neighbor. The Bedford Police Department responded to and investigated Ms. Somai’s calls. The city sent a nuisance abatement letter to her landlord concerning Ms. Somai and her neighbor based on her calls for service, which led the landlord to file an eviction action against her. The eviction action was dismissed as a result of Legal Aid’s advocacy.

This case builds on litigation the ACLU has brought against discriminatory nuisance ordinances in Arizona, California, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.

Courts across the country, as well as the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, have found that local nuisance ordinances violate residents’ rights under the First Amendment, Due Process clause, and Fair Housing Act. These ordinances punish people with eviction simply for calling the police for help or because criminal activity occurred at their property, and they disproportionately impact marginalized people.

The comments are from the following:

“These ordinances exist in thousands of cities across the country, disproportionately harming communities of color, low-income households, people with disabilities, and domestic violence survivors, and unjustly denying them access to safe and stable housing,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Other cities should strike these discriminatory laws and instead focus on promoting housing opportunities and relationships with diverse communities.”

“A call for help should never result in eviction. Now that this law is repealed, my client and others like her can feel safer in their homes,” said Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio. “Bedford has done the right thing. We are pleased to work with them on becoming a more welcoming community, and we urge other Ohio cities to strike these laws down now.”

“The City of Bedford’s focus will always be the safety of its citizens, and we worked cooperatively throughout this case to preserve that,” said Eric Smearman, counsel for the City of Bedford. “Bedford looks forward to collaborating in order to formulate a process to address repeated criminal misconduct using restorative justice in order to cooperatively eliminate the harm created by crime and maintain the quality of life for all residents. The City has been and continues to remain committed to being an inclusive and welcoming community.”

“This case provides notice to other cities about the intended or unintended consequences of nuisance ordinances, which too often have a negative impact on Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, and victims of crime,” said Colleen Cotter, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

Cleveland Legal Aid attorney Sara Bird added, “Ms. Somai reached out to Legal Aid for assistance when she and her son faced eviction for calling the police for help. Her story and her bravery in pursuing this case had an impact on her entire community. We are proud of Ms. Somai and grateful to the City of Bedford for seeing a way forward to a more inclusive community.”

Since 2015, The Fair Housing Center has been encouraging local communities to repeal their criminal nuisance ordinances due to the discriminatory effects they have on people protected by fair housing laws. “Criminal nuisances ordinances interfere with residents’ fair housing rights and their housing stability. The Fair Housing Center celebrates Bedford’s commitment to repealing its ordinance and encourages other communities to do the same,” said Carrie Pleasants, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research.

The settlement is available here.

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