SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – In dozens of Illinois cities, a tenant who calls police too many times for protection from an abusive spouse or an intruding ex who’s bent on violence can be evicted as a nuisance.
Starting Nov. 19, state law requires those cities to carve out critical exceptions for domestic battery and disability in nuisance property ordinances.
Two civil rights groups, The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, announced Monday they’ve sent alerts about the upcoming law to 42 cities with ordinances that seem most out of whack with the measure Gov. Bruce Rauner signed last month.
Intended to attack crime and blight, the ordinances are a relatively recent phenomenon, according to Kate Walz, the poverty law center’s director of housing justice. They typically impose sanctions for too many emergency calls, and a landlord might be required to evict a tenant regularly visited by police.
Illinois’ restrictions on nuisance-property enforcement follow moves in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, according to Amy Meek, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Women’s & Reproductive Rights Project. In 2012, police told a Pennsylvania woman that one more emergency call about her ex-boyfriend could get her thrown out of her home. When the man returned and stabbed her in the neck, she was afraid to call police, but a neighbor did. The woman faced eviction until the ACLU intervened.
“Tenants should not be punished for being victims of any crime, and they shouldn’t be punished for having to call the police, or for their neighbors having to call the police,” Meek said.
More than 100 communities in Illinois have such regulations, according to Walz, but the letter went to those whose rules appear most in conflict with the new law.
Eight cities Alton, Champaign, Columbia, Herscher, Park City, Richton Park, Rock Island and Urbana have ordinances specifying too-frequent calls about domestic violence as a “nuisance” that can lead to eviction, the groups say. The other 34 notified including Chicago, Joliet, O’Fallon, Palatine, Pekin and Peru punish landlords or tenants based on the number of police calls to a particular residence without exception for domestic abuse or disabilities such as mental illness.
Peru City Clerk Dave Bartley said he had never heard the city’s ordinance discussed during six years in office, but that officials had begun drafting changes for the city council’s consideration.
Champaign spokesman Jeff Hamilton said the city’s legal department is searching the books for potential conflicts, which could take several weeks.
A spokesman for the city of Chicago did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ordinances have proliferated in Illinois more than in other states, Walz said, adding she suspects as cities adopted the code, officials in neighboring cities said, “If I don’t have one, I will get all the criminals.”
Such ordinances don’t just squeeze vulnerable residents, Walz said, but can force action by property owners sympathetic to their tenants’ predicaments.
“The owners have described situations where they’re being told by the local government, `It doesn’t matter. You’ve gotten too many calls. You need to take action and evict,”’ she said.