Testimony of Jenna Prochaska, ACLU of Illinois, to Chicago City Council Committee on License and Consumer Protection, Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Housing security and unfettered access to police assistance are essential to the safety of survivors of domestic violence, victims of crime, individuals with disabilities, and other vulnerable tenants. Nuisance ordinances like Section 8-4-87 of the Municipal Code of Chicago place these groups at risk by using 911 calls as the basis for punitive enforcement. In practice, we know that landlords respond to the threat of penalties imposed by ordinances like this one by evicting tenants, refusing to renew leases, or instructing tenants not to call 911.

As a result, victims are faced with the impossible choice between suffering through violence and threats and calling the police which could lead to homelessness. This undermines public safety, fuels housing instability, and punishes innocent people. Even without enforcement by the City, having this ordinance on the books harms tenants and undermines public safety efforts by discouraging residents from calling 911 for help. We know that carve-outs like those in Proposed Ordinance 89 are not sufficient to prevent harm, because police calls related to domestic violence and disabilities are often not clearly identified.

Keeping this ordinance in place risks liability for the City for violations of a range of state and federal laws. For example, when a similar ordinance was challenged in New York, an appellate court struck the ordinance down as facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment, because it used the number of police calls made by tenants as a basis for identifying their homes as public nuisances.
The City faces potential liability under the federal Fair Housing Act, as similar ordinances have been found to have a discriminatory impact on communities of color. The City also may face liability under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as the ordinance fails to provide tenants with notice or an opportunity for a hearing before a landlord may be pressured to evict them to avoid penalties under the ordinance. 
No one should fear losing their home or punishment of any kind for calling the police for help. Along with the over 20 other advocacy organizations that sent a letter to the City Council this week, we urge the City to repeal its “chronic illegal activity premises” ordinance in its entirety. The risk of harm to tenants is too significant to justify keeping this ordinance on the books, in any form.