September 21, 2015

New law to prevent victims of domestic or sexual violence and persons with disabilities from being evicted may lead to legal challenges across state

CHICAGO – Municipalities across the state are on notice that their local ordinances conflict with a new state law. The ordinances at issue, commonly referred to as “crime-free” or “nuisance” property ordinances, often threaten landlords and tenants with penalties when police are called in response to alleged criminal activity at a property. As a result of these ordinances, Illinois residents face the threat of eviction, fines, or other penalties for making 911 calls for help. The new state law, which goes into effect on November 19, 2015, removes this threat. Among other things, the law bars local governments from enacting or enforcing ordinances that punish tenants or landlords for calls to police in response to incidents of domestic or sexual violence or on behalf of a person with disabilities.

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (“ACLU”) and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (“Shriver Center”), who advanced the law, sent letters to 42 local governments informing them that their crime-free or nuisance property ordinances conflict with the new state law and put them at risk for legal action. The organizations urge the communities to repeal or amend their laws to avoid liability under the new statute.

“The law is clear – victims of domestic or sexual violence and individuals with disabilities no longer have to fear eviction when they need assistance from the police,” said Amy Meek, ACLU Staff Attorney. “We must ensure that this change in law is respected in communities large and small all across Illinois.”

More than 100 towns and cities in Illinois have “crime free” or “nuisance” ordinances. The ACLU/Shriver Center letters went to those municipalities whose ordinances, as written, are most clearly in violation of the new law. Those include eight (8) communities that specifically label domestic battery or domestic violence as a “nuisance” that can lead to a tenant’s eviction, without distinguishing between the abuser and the victim (Alton, Champaign, Columbia, Herscher, Park City, Richton Park, Rock Island and Urbana) and 34 additional communities whose ordinances directly punish landlords or tenants based on the number of police calls to a particular residence – without excluding calls relating to domestic violence and/or persons with disabilities (Addison, Batavia, Bellwood, Bolingbrook, Calumet City, Carol Stream, Chicago, Chicago Heights, Chicago Ridge, Country Club Hills, Elk Grove Village, Fairview Heights, Ford Heights, Glendale Heights, Hazel Crest, Joliet, Lansing, Midlothian, North Riverside, Northlake, Oak Lawn, O’Fallon, Palatine, Pekin, Phoenix, Peru, Riverdale, Round Lake Heights, Schaumburg, Skokie, Thornton, Tinley Park, Villa Park and West Chicago). Two of these communities (Chicago and Joliet) exclude calls made by victims of domestic violence and/or other crimes; however, because none of the exceptions extend to individuals with disabilities, these ordinances may still conflict with state law. In addition, numerous other municipalities (that were not the recipients of this round of letters) have ordinances that may run afoul of the new law as enforced. The ACLU and Shriver intend to monitor these municipalities for possible future action.

“People who suffer domestic violence or who need assistance because of a disability must be able to call for help without fearing eviction,” said Kate Walz, Shriver Center Director of Housing Justice. “These communities must change their laws to correct this problem – and do so as soon as possible. Punishing people for seeking police assistance does not make communities safer.”