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Crime victims could sue municipalities for forcing their eviction under proposed Penn. law

Posted Jan 15, 2014 1:03 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban municipalities from penalizing tenants or their landlords when residents make legitimate 911 calls.

The bill moves to the Pennsylvania Senate after the House voted to approve it on Tuesday, according to RH Reality Check and a press release by the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Todd Stephens. The bill is the first statewide legislation that seeks to protect all victims of crime or abuse from eviction, according to RH Reality Check.

Stephens, a former prosecutor, introduced the bill after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Lakisha Briggs of Norristown, Pa., who says she was afraid to report attacks by her boyfriend. The reason: An ordinance authorized police to force tenants out of their apartments after three instances of disorderly behavior within four months. (A new version of the law fines landlords who fail to evict tenants for repeated instances of disorderly behavior.) Briggs was rushed to a hospital after neighbors contacted police. The ABA Journal covered the lawsuit and the issues.

Stephens’ bill says Pennsylvania municipalities can’t penalize a resident, tenant or landlord for contacting police for emergency assistance when the call is spurred by a reasonable belief that intervention is needed in response to abuse, crime or an emergency. Municipalities that violate the law could be sued for compensatory damages.

This bill “is not window dressing,” Stephens told RH Reality Check. “This is the real deal. Any victim who a municipality tries to have evicted will have plenty of rights.”

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