PHOENIX — The city of Surprise, Ariz., today agreed to repeal a “nuisance law” that pressured landlords to evict tenants who place more than four calls to police in 30 days or for two crimes occurring at the property at any time, even if the tenant is the victim of the crime.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, and the law firm Aiken Schenk Hawkins & Ricciardi P.C. brought the federal lawsuit on behalf of Nancy Markham in August 2015.
The lawsuit argued that the law deprived her of her First Amendment right to seek police assistance among other constitutional, fair housing, and statutory violations. The settlement includes the repeal of the nuisance ordinance from the Surprise Municipal Code, agreement not to adopt a future policy that punishes crime victims or deters calls for police assistance, and payment to Markham.
“Over the course of several months in 2014, I was abused repeatedly by my ex-boyfriend and desperately needed emergency assistance. I was shocked to discover that the city pressured my landlord to evict me for seeking protection from the police,” said Markham. “It’s a great relief to know that crime victims — especially abused women —will no longer be punished twice, once by their abuser and again by their city government.”
The ACLU said that while the nuisance ordinances in Surprise and other Arizona localities purport to protect public safety, they do not reduce crime and their enforcement hurts domestic violence and other crime victims attacked in their homes.
“Nuisance laws present crime victims with two options: endure abuse or face eviction,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Muzzling victims not only jeopardizes them and their families, it also undermines public safety by discouraging reports to law enforcement.”
The ACLU added that by interfering with the fundamental governmental function of police protection, nuisance laws ignore the needs of victims, empower abusers to act without fear of police intervention and increase victims’ vulnerability to homelessness and future abuse.
“The lack of adequate housing for poor and working families already contributes to a downward spiral and loss of basic necessities,” said Dan Pochoda, senior counsel at the ACLU of Arizona. “Arizona localities with such laws must follow Surprise but voluntarily repeal provisions that are obstacles to needed shelter.”
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.
“We are pleased that the City of Surprise is repealing the nuisance ordinances at issue,” said cooperating attorney Heather A. Macre of Aiken Schenk Hawkins & Ricciardi P.C. “We are all committed to protecting the rights of crime victims and providing them with safe and stable housing options in our community.”
Advocates have identified hundreds of nuisance laws across the country, and there are likely thousands more on the books. The ACLU challenged a similar ordinance in 2013 on behalf of a domestic violence survivor in Norristown, Penn., and also published a report on the harmful effects of these ordinances to crime victims in New York. The ACLU will continue to challenge and raise awareness about the harms of these laws for stripping crime victims of their constitutional rights.
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