The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Survivors of Domestic Violence Evicted for Calling Police

Posted on Central Foothill Mommies. The image depicts domestic violence.

Posted on Central Foothill Mommies

When most people call 911 seeking protection from an abusive partner, they do not expect to receive an eviction notice from their landlord. Unfortunately, a “disorderly behavior” ordinance has changed that expectation. This week, Atlantic Cities wrote an article exposing this issue.

For many years, municipal laws in Pennsylvania mandated that a landlord evict tenants for calling the police three times within a four month period if the call is in regards to disorderly behavior. According to Pennsylvania municipalities, domestic violence is a form of disorderly behavior and, in turn, survivors were penalized by this law. After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to bring a lawsuit disputing the law’s constitutionality, municipalities repealed the “three strike” ordinance. However, another very similar law was enacted in Norristown (a city in Pennsylvania). The new law fines landlords when tenants call the police for disorderly behavior. Such laws inadvertently encourage landlords to evict tenants that are experiencing domestic violence.

Sandra Park of the ACLU blogged about the injustices behind and implications of these laws. She writes:

These laws violate tenants’ First Amendment right to petition their government, which includes the right to contact law enforcement. They also violate the federal Violence Against Women Act, which protects many domestic violence victims from eviction based on crimes committed against them, and the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, and was enacted 45 years ago this month… Such evictions are often motivated by gender stereotypes that hold victims responsible for the abuse they experience.

Not only do these ordinances perpetuate stereotypes, they also deny survivors safety. Such laws insist that domestic disputes are personal matters and, as a result, police should not intervene (even when a partner experiences physical or emotional abuse).  As survivors are painted as instigators and as law enforcement refuses to intervene, domestic violence becomes trivialized.

While certain housing protections for domestic violence survivors exist in New York City, there are many loopholes in the law. According to New Destiny Housing, a tenant residing in a rent stabilized unit cannot be evicted if they temporarily flee their apartment due to a domestic violence dispute.  Similarly, a tenant living in Section 8 and NYCHA public housing cannot solely be evicted on grounds of domestic violence. Such laws address the need to provide safety to survivors, but they do not contain a clause granting protections when the dispute disturbs other tenants. Without that clause, domestic violence survivors are still subject to eviction.  As these ordinances spread to other parts of the country, we hope that their unjust nature is exposed, dismantled, and eliminated.

This issue reminds us of a similar situation with Secure Communities.  In this controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, local police information is shared with ICE, and undocumented immigrants can be deported for any contact with police. Rather than created real safety in our communities, this program discourages those experiencing domestic violence from calling the police for fear of deportation.  This program must be ended, like the laws around eviction must be changed, in order to provide real safety for our communities and a working relationship with law enforcement.

If you or someone you know is being evicted or experiencing other housing challenges as a result of domestic violence, call the New Destiny Housing Helpline at (646) 472-0262, Ext. 15.

One response to “Survivors of Domestic Violence Evicted for Calling Police

  1. Catherine Trapani May 3, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I just want to clarify that the eviction protection rules for rent stabalized domestic violence victim tenants are unfortunately limited in scope. The rule is you cannot be evicted for failing to use the apartment as your primary residence if you temporarily flee because of domestic violence. Being a domestic violence victim is not, in itself, a defense for eviction from a rent stabalized apartment on other grounds.

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