3-Strikes Rental Law Challenged

by Chris on October 28, 2013

In recent years, a number of cities have passed nuisance rental ordinances designed to deter crime by focusing on rental properties. Often referred to as “3-strikes” laws, these ordinances penalize landlords when tenants commit crimes.

tenant screeningWhile the intent of these ordinances is to reduce crime in cities, the costs associated with these programs have angered landlords who must pay the price for increased regulation.

Now, these laws have drawn the ire of the ACLU.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed suit against the city of Norristown after that 3-strikes law prompted a domestic violence victim to forgo calling the police on her attacker for fear she would lose her home. A police officer responding to a previous domestic violence incident allegedly had told the victim that the next time she called police, she would risk being evicted under the city’s 3-strikes rental ordinance. When the attacker appeared at her door once again, she chose to do nothing. She nearly died from her injuries.

Recent amendments to the 3-strikes law in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania have prompted a warning from the ACLU, which was joined by a number of women’s rights groups.

The Wilkes-Barre law allows city officials to order the closure of rental properties — one unit or entire buildings — for up to six months, if three or more “disruptive conduct reports” or police reports are generated from the property.

This closure occurs without a hearing, nor is a criminal conviction required. There are no exceptions for when the tenant is the victim. Common violations included in the ordinance are the presence or drugs on the property, gun violence, or a tenant or guest’s disruptive behavior.

The ACLU and women’s rights organizations have asked that the city of Wilkes-Barre not enforce the ordinance, or amend the provisions. These groups say the ordinance violates tenants’ and landlords’ constitutional rights, including the right to call police and the right to a hearing before a penalty is assessed, as well as the Fair Housing Act.

It has been reported that some tenants were warned not to call police if there is a disturbance at the property.

The ACLU is not alone in protesting the ordinance. Landlords also take issue with the new amendments, which include a “one-strike” provision in some instances, and a rule concerning “implied” knowledge on the part of the landlord regarding drug or weapons activities. Knowledge is imputed to the rental property owner based on “police knowledge and experience” of crime at the property.

The stated intent of the ordinance is to reduce or eliminate crime within the city by imposing regulations on property owners and occupants as they relate to drugs, violence, crime and civil disobedience.

After the so-called “3-Strikes Ordinance” was passed, the Wilkes-Barre’s mayor issued a public announcement that the city had closed a rental property after a drug-related crime was said to have occurred there. The city set up the Nuisance Property Hotline to encourage local residents to report suspected nuisance property.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

JimmyD October 29, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a city to expect to recover it’s costs when a landlord is irresponsible and rents to drug dealers and drug users and creates a burden on the community. If warning notices are sent to a landlord about the intention of the city to board up and vacate a property and they don’t spring into action, I’m not sure I have a lot of sympathy for that landlord. As a landlord and a Code Enforcement official, absentee landlords are a problem.

Kevin November 26, 2013 at 9:20 am

Why not make it when the spouse, boyfriend or ex’ commits 3 acts of domestic violence get mandatory 10 years in prison in stead of going after the victim.

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