February 23, 2015 10:13 am

New legislation introduced to prevent Illinois crime victims from being evicted under local ordinances

CHICAGO — Legislation introduced in Springfield aims to ensure that crime victims in Illinois are not further harmed by being evicted because the police were called to help them. The legislation, Senate Bill 1547, was introduced by State Senator Toi Hutchinson of Olympia Fields. This bill will bar local governments from enacting or enforcing ordinances that penalize tenants or landlords when the police are called in response to domestic or sexual violence, criminal activity or other emergency situations.

“People should not be punished for calling the police for help,” said Senator Hutchinson in discussing the proposal. “But local ordinances in a growing number of Illinois communities present crime victims with an impossible choice — call the police to protect themselves and risk eviction or forego police protection and risk their health and safety. No one in our state should have to make such a desperate choice.”

More than 100 towns and cities across Illinois have adopted and implemented so-called “crime free” or “nuisance” ordinances. These ordinances often require landlords to push tenants out of their homes if the police are contacted regarding alleged criminal activity at a property. Indeed, at least 35 of these ordinances directly punish landlords or tenants for exceeding a certain number of calls to the police, making no distinction between the perpetrators of a crime and the crime victims. These ordinances even punish crime victims when someone else, like a concerned neighbor or family member, calls the police on their behalf.

Advocates working on Senate Bill 1547 cite specific concerns that survivors of domestic violence are adversely affected by these ordinances. Domestic violence is rarely a one-time occurrence in a relationship, and repeat offenders often violate orders of protection. Survivors of domestic violence who seek police protection for themselves and their families should not be forced into homelessness for doing so.

“Whatever the purpose of these ordinances, it cannot be to punish the victims of awful crimes like domestic violence,” said Amy Meek of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “Yet, we know that at least 35 communities across Illinois punish tenants simply for calling the police.”

“Treating calls to the police as a ‘nuisance’ sends yet another victim-blaming message to survivors of domestic violence,” added Gwyn Kaitis, Director of the Illinois Domestic Violence Help Line at the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network. “In one case we had a call from a victim whose abuser threatened to call police himself, while taunting the victim that she would be evicted due to the nuisance ordinance. “Stories like this illustrate the troubling consequences these flawed ordinances can cause.

The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) estimates that nearly 20,000 of the clients served by domestic violence shelters in Illinois in 2014 (17,000 adults and 2,600 children) came from rental housing. “Without the protections of Senate Bill 1547, these survivors are at risk of eviction if they seek protection in a crisis situation,” said Noelle Dupuis, Director of Policy for the ICADV.

“These ordinances not only threaten victims and their families, they undermine public safety,” said Jenna Prochaska of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law “We urge the Illinois legislature to act swiftly to pass this bill — before any survivors of domestic violence are further harmed.”

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