Constitutional Law

Do laws that encourage eviction for repeated 911 calls violate First Amendment? ACLU presses case

A law that pressures landlords to evict tenants for repeated 911 calls violates the First Amendment rights of renters, lawyers will argue in Philadelphia federal court on Thursday.

Lawyers from the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union are arguing on behalf of Lakisha Briggs of Norristown, Pa., the Associated Press reports. A Norristown, Pa., ordinance in effect when Briggs was assaulted by a former boyfriend authorized the town to suspend or revoke a landlord’s rental license and forcibly remove a tenant from any property where the police have responded to three instances of “disorderly behavior” within a four month period. An ABA Journal magazine story from this month gives more details.

“Under the old ordinance, victims of domestic violence were essentially forced to choose between eviction and calling for help when they were being battered in their homes,” the ACLU suit (PDF) says.

A new ordinance, enacted after Briggs’ lawyer alleged the law was unconstitutional, allows the town to assess an escalating series of fines against landlords when police respond to three disorderly conduct complaints in four months. “Although the new ordinance purports to target landlords, the new ordinance directly infringes on Norristown tenants’ constitutional rights,” the suit says.

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