Constitutional Law

Domestic violence victims penalized for calling police by eviction ordinance, says ACLU suit

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit over a municipal ordinance that effectively penalizes individuals for calling police, if they are deemed to have engaged in “disorderly behavior,” by pressuring landlords to evict them.

Filed by Pepper Hamilton last week on behalf of Lakisha Briggs, the Philadelphia suit (PDF) says the Norristown, Penn., law—which is similar to laws throughout the country—interferes with her right to petition for redress and call police under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as due process and unreasonable search and seizure. It also asserts claims for violation of fair housing law, due to alleged sex discrimination, and the Violence Against Women Act.

Briggs, a domestic violence victim, was threatened with eviction from her rental home after police were called three times within four months, with two of those calls made by neighbors.

A written statement provided by Norristown’s acting municipal administrator said officials can’t comment on the complaint, because they haven’t received it, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

However, “new provisions of the Municipality’s Rental License Ordinance reflect the Municipality’s attempt to require landlords to assist in attempting to reduce incidences of disorderly behavior caused by tenants in the Municipality, which adversely affect the law-abiding citizens of Norristown,” the statement says.

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