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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Wider Impacts of Nuisance Laws on Low-Income Renters

A recent article from NPR (that was also heard on NPR’s show All Things Considered) focuses on the impacts of nuisance laws enforced in cities across America on low-income renters who are also victims of crime and domestic abuse.

Nuisance laws have been instated in cities and towns across the country in an attempt to reduce the amount of crime in communities (but especially in areas with rental properties). The specifics differ based on location, but nuisance laws essentially put a limit on the number of times the police can be called to a rental property (“for ‘disorderly behavior'”) in a specific time period before the property’s landlord gets fined and potentially has his or her rental license suspended.

These laws have very real consequences for tenants of rental properties in communities enforcing such practices. One common outcome of nuisance laws is eviction, which Matthew Desmond discusses in his book Evicted.

The article includes the story of a woman named Lakisha Briggs, who was a victim of frequent domestic abuse and was evicted from her rental property in Norristown, Pennsylvania, after the police were called to her apartment twice. Briggs was always “reluctant to call the police when her boyfriend beat her up” after being told by her landlord that she had had “one strike” after the police were called to her apartment the first time.

However, one night Briggs’s boyfriend “slit her neck open with a broken ashtray” after a fight, prompting the police to arrive and Briggs to be airlifted to the hospital. She was evicted after recovering in the hospital.

Her landlord  told her “he didn’t want to throw her out, but if he didn’t, he’d be fined $1,000 a day” due to the nuisance laws in effect in Norristown.

Nuisance laws have contributed to the evictions of tenants in situations similar to Briggs’s in cities and towns across America.

You can read the article in its entirety here.