A local ‘nuisance law’ in Pennsylvania gave residents one strike if they called the police for help. After three strikes, you were evicted.
remember the day I realized that I had to stop calling the police, no matter what danger I was in. It was 9 April 2012 when the police came to my home to arrest my ex-boyfriend, who had physically assaulted me. When they were there, an officer told me I was “on three strikes”. I had no idea what he was referring to, nor did he explain. “We are gonna have your landlord evict you” he added. Later, after I requested more information from the police department, I was told I was being punished for calling 911.
Norristown, Pennsylvania , where I live, had a local nuisance law that specifically said that calls about domestic violence would count as “strikes”. Three would lead to eviction. I wanted to keep my home for me and my child – so I stopped calling the police, even when there was more domestic violence at my home. But I couldn’t stop other people calling 911. I received two more strikes from the city as a result of other people trying to help me.
In late May, my landlord and I met with Norristown officials because the city was threatening to revoke his rental license unless I moved out. I tried to explain that I was dealing with domestic violence, but no one listened. Instead, I was told I was at fault for needing police protection. I had brought a witness with me, but the city did not allow her to speak.
The town where I had lived for many years was literally going to put me out on the street for being the victim of crime. My landlord advocated for me but there was not much he could do because of the ordinance. The property was put on a 30-day probationary period, during which neither I nor my neighbors could call the police.
My abuser knew that the city had gagged me and took full advantage. He knew that the officers who were supposed to serve and protect were not protecting me at all. At that point, he used the law to come to my home whenever he pleased. I couldn’t call the police to remove him.
On June 23, he brutally attacked me. He bit my lip and stabbed me in the neck. I was knocked unconscious for a couple seconds, and when I regained my senses, I was too afraid to call the cops because of the ordinance. I left my home severely injured, walking the streets, when a neighbor saw me and called 911. I was airlifted by helicopter to the hospital with bleeding wounds.
When I got home from the hospital a few days later, my landlord came the next day with papers from Norristown saying that I had to leave home within 14 days. He did not want to evict me, but the city gave him no choice but to file a case against me. We had two hearings, and fortunately, the judge denied the eviction. But even after that, Norristown told my landlord that I still had to leave my home. The local law gave the city the power to condemn the property if he did not remove me.
I couldn’t believe the city was doing this to me. The way I felt at that time cannot be articulated in words. Still, I knew I wanted to continue to fight for my home because what the city was doing was so wrong. Domestic abuse is terrible enough, but victims should not lose the roofs over their heads because of it.
The ACLU and the Pepper Hamilton law firm represented me in challenging Norristown’s ordinance. I never expected in my life to file a federal lawsuit, but I decided that I had to move forward for other crime victims. I did not want another woman to face my experiences.
In September 2014, we reached a settlement that included Norristown repealing the law. Pennsylvania also passed a law that prohibits all municipalities across the state from punishing people for calling the police for help. I was so pleased.
Since then, I have learned that Norristown is not the only city with this kind of “nuisance” law on the books. There are hundreds of these kinds of laws across the US. They must be repealed. No victim of crime should ever be forced to choose between calling the police and holding on to their homes. And no city should ever doubly victimize domestic violence survivors – we have experienced far too much pain already.