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When Nuisance Laws Hurt

Nuisance Laws are not just for dogs.

At the Housing Education and Research Association annual conference, I learned about nuisance laws in housing. I was not familiar with these, but intrigued by the conversation that ensued. Basically, rental housing is concerned about their reputation. They don’t want to be considered seedy or associated with crime.

So, a clause can be written into a contract that after three calls to the police (or visits from the police) the occupant can be evicted.  Three calls can also mean the contract would not be renewed. Sounded reasonable to keep down sketchy activity, right?! Imagine my surprise when the speaker talked about a real-life case in which a single mother with two young children found herself in an abusive relationship. She had called the police twice before (and I can’t remember but she may have even gotten a restraining order). One night he came back and stabbed her. She already had called the police twice and refused to call due to her concern about being evicted. The neighbors heard the ruckus and called the police. The woman had been stabbed so severely that she had to be airlifted to the hospital. True to the policy, since the police had come to her apartment three times, she and her children were evicted.

This real-life scenario kept the attendees talking for quite a while.  The situation continued to make me think. I am aware of the need to make people understand that a rental facility isn’t looking for trouble. I also understand that if you are involved in police-related activities, perhaps you should rent elsewhere. What I have difficulty with is seemingly good policy (or laws) intended for beneficial reasons which ends up causing more harm. What if this woman had died because she was concerned more about eviction than her own safety? What would have happened to the children? Could the community/apartment manager have used some discretion in this case?

I have been thinking more about policies lately. I see how important it is to have dialogue about potential laws so that they can be looked at from a variety of perspectives. What has been your experience in rental housing? Do you feel discussions with occupants or the community at large could have helped prevent this?

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