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The town where we own a rental property had a meeting for landlords (by which I mean owners of rental property) recently. Those who attended reported learning that there are some new laws regarding rental properties:

  • if police are called to the same family's residence 3 times in a year, the landlord must evict them. If the landlord doesn't comply, the rental license will be revoked for 1 year.
  • if police are called to the same family's residence 6 times in a year, the landlord is fined.
  • if police are injured on a call, the landlord is responsible for their medical costs.

We don't intend to challenge the laws at this time - they make it easier for us to evict problem tenants whose visitors damage our property, assuming we get timely notification of the calls - but were wondering if there are examples of similar laws that have either gone unchallenged for a long period of time or that have been challenged and judged to be legal.


New info: The laws were reportedly based on those of Norristown, Pennsylvania. There's a post from the ACLU here, which states in part:

Under a local ordinance, three calls to the police in four months, including for protection from crimes such as domestic violence, would result in revocation of the landlord's rental license and removal of the tenant for trespassing. A second version of the ordinance imposed steep fines on the landlord that could be avoided if the landlord evicted the tenant, even if she was in dire need of emergency or police assistance.

Today, we reached a settlement with Norristown. Under the agreement, Norristown will pay $495,000 in compensation and attorneys' fees to Ms. Briggs. It also repealed its ordinance and promised not to pass another law that would punish residents and landlords as a result of requests for emergency assistance.

(I suppose the preceding quote answers my question.)

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – feetwet Jul 22 at 2:40
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    This does not sound credible. It sounds more like an HOA meeting rather than a town that would have a city attorney. – Be Kind To New Users Jul 22 at 3:44
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    Rental license?? – RonJohn Jul 22 at 4:57
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    @RonJohn in cities with these before a house can be rented out it needs a rental license. In our case the number of licenses per block is limited to prevent owner occupied neighborhoods transforming into rental neighborhoods. Ours is focused on the local university where they did not want all the close neighborhoods to become frat annexes. Not saying it is a good idea, but that is how it was presented. – Ukko Jul 22 at 16:28
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    @AzorAhai-him- there already exist (in the US, at least) housing laws which mandate that a building be safe to live in, have potable water and electrical leads, etc, etc. Given that, I see no need for a Landlord License. – RonJohn Jul 23 at 20:52
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This law sounds likely to be unconstitutional and/or invalid because it is pre-empted by state or federal laws.

Among other things it probably violates the First Amendment right to petition the government, and the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws (by depriving people who have had previous police calls of the right to call the police without penalty) and due process (by imposing a penalty based upon a call, without a presumption of innocence, rather than a finding of wrongdoing that overcomes a presumption of innocence). It could also implicate a tenant's right as a Fourth Amendment seizure without probable cause, or a Fifth Amendment taking of property without just compensation.

It is probably also pre-empted by state law which establishes the grounds for which someone may be lawfully evicted, which almost certainly do not include this condition. Likewise, the conditions under which liability for police injuries is imposed are also probably pre-empted by state law.

California has an express statutory prohibition on this kind of rule at Cal.Civ.Code § 1946.8(c) which provides that:

A landlord cannot punish, or threaten to punish, you or another resident for exercising your right to request law enforcement or emergency assistance on behalf of a:

  • victim of abuse;
  • victim of crime; or
  • person in an emergency.

Your landlord also cannot put any penalties in place if a person who is not a resident or tenant calls law enforcement or emergency assistance to your residence.

To be protected under this law, the person who calls the police must believe that law enforcement or emergency assistance is needed to prevent or deal with an act of abuse, or the heightening or worsening of an act of abuse, a crime, or an emergency.

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently actively attempting to identify cases where these laws (often called nuisance laws) are being used in this manner for the purposes of bringing litigation to invalidate the laws or restrain their use. Litigation is in process in Seattle, Washington and East Rochester, New York. The ACLU also notes that:

In situations where an alleged "nuisance" offense is related to an incident of domestic violence, landlords may choose to evict all the residents to avoid future incidents or police calls that could result in a fine. Yet, these evictions violate federal law. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has made it clear that tenants who are denied or evicted from housing because they have suffered domestic violence can file sex discrimination complaints with HUD under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Thus, there would often be pre-emption of the local law by federal law as well. An op-ed piece in the New York Times reviews similar issues in Lakewood, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, pointing out that the U.S. Constitution and federal housing laws are likely to be violated by these statutes.

In at least two instances, one included in an edited question in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and one mentioned in another answer, the case of Somai v. City of Bedford in Bedford, Ohio, the ACLU has concluded favorable settlements after litigation to have these ordinances repealed and to win compensation for aggrieved parties, although, because they are settlements, neither case establishes a binding appellate precedent.

We don't intend to challenge the laws at this time - they make it easier for us to evict problem tenants whose visitors damage our property - but were wondering if there are examples of similar laws that have either gone unchallenged for a long period of time or that have been challenged and judged to be legal.

As landlords, you are in a difficult position. These laws have not gone unchallenged for a long period of time nor have they been challenged and judged to be legal. Instead, in all likelihood, a legal challenge to these newly enacted laws is likely to be imminent.

And, while you face violations of local laws in these cases by not taking action, you may face federal housing law liability if you do utilize these laws and these laws are found to be invalid.

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    I somehow never thought of this as a Petition Clause issue. Duh. – bdb484 Jul 20 at 18:56
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    @bhb484 The theory being that it burdens the right to call the police. – ohwilleke Jul 20 at 20:34
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    Yes, I definitely agree. I'm just kicking myself for not seeing it earlier. – bdb484 Jul 21 at 3:00
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    It seems like both the tenant and the landlord could have a taking case if some purported "rental license" is at stake. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Jul 21 at 3:00
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    Concerning whether such laws have been challenged: one such ordinance was repealed as part of a settlement (Somai v. City of Bedford, mentioned in user6726's answer.) However, since this was a settlement rather than a judgment I assume it wouldn't have precidential value in other cases. – Michael Seifert Jul 21 at 13:43
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This problem seems not to be unique, see this article. Ohio is reported to have about 50 of them. Here is a legal paper on crime-free housing ordinances, and this includes nuisance ordinances which are also used. Somai v. City of Bedford is an example of a successful suit against such an ordinance (settled after an injunction was granted suspending enforcement of the City of Bedford’s Nuisance Ordinance). 1st and 14th Amendment and violation of state and federal fair housing protections are key.

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Those who attended reported learning that there are some new laws regarding rental properties [...] they make it easier for us to evict problem tenants whose visitors damage our property

These "laws" as described (and with no verifiable references) sound incredibly inept, contravening public policy of any state, and very likely to expose credulous landlords to liability for wrongful eviction. Meetings for landlords ought to be much more reliable than this.

For instance, suppose a tenant has needed police assistance twice in the residential unit in a year, and now he is the victim of another crime therein. It makes no sense to require eviction on grounds that that is the third time the "police are called to the same family's residence 3 times in a year" to protect the victim-tenant.

Nor is there a scintilla of proportionality in these alleged laws. Someone's loud music in the residential unit is definitely less of a concern than a shooting in progress, yet these "new laws" as described here seem to treat both types of scenarios equally.

Minor issues involving the police might not even get notified to the landlord. Accordingly, the "new laws" imply that a landlord would never know whether he is on the brink of having his license revoked.

Making landlords liable for medical costs from injuries to police agents is another misguided principle. Criminality in a town or urban area is something beyond landlords' control.

The residential unit might be vacant (example: because the landlord evicted the former tenants as per these "new laws") and still be the scene of arson. It is absurd to make penalizations contingent on whether the landlord was even able to evict someone at that point.

The matter would trigger fair housing issues as well as public policy considerations regarding the supply and demand of residential units.

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    I think this answer is correct as to the absurdity of such laws. However. I think that several places in the US have in fact imposed similar local laws. Apparently the assumption is that repeated police calls come only from unruly residents or unruly guests of residents, and that landlo9rds can control this by evicting such residents. I do not know if there have been legal challenges to such laws or to evictions under them. If there have been, I do not know the results. The resuolts might well vary by state or even locality. – David Siegel Jul 20 at 18:24
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    See action.aclu.org/legal-intake/nuisancesurvey for the ACLU's take on such laws, which they call "Nuisance ordinances, "disorderly house ordinances" or "crime free ordinances". They say that such laws are becoming common in the US, and want to collect info on instances of them. See also aclu.org/blog/calling-police-can-get-you-evicted – David Siegel Jul 20 at 18:27
  • The arson-on-a-vacant-unit scenario wouldn't be an issue in this case, since it explicitly states "same family's residence". If there's nobody living there, it isn't any family's residence, and would thus be exempt. The rest of the points are pretty much valid though. – Darrel Hoffman Jul 21 at 13:47
  • @DarrelHoffman You're assuming that all provisions of all instances of these laws around the country are so specific. There's a good chance the description in the OP is only a summary, not exhaustive, and not necessarily representative of other similar laws. – Barmar Jul 21 at 16:25
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    [...] @phoog Most challanges I have found seem to have resulted in settlements undoing the challenged action, or providing damages in the 6-figure range, or both. Some have also resulted in the repeal of challenged laws. I have not found any case where a full published opinion on the merits was issued, but there have been a few TROs against enforcement. I have not found any case where such a law was upheld or a challenge dismissed. But most sucfh actions are in low-level courts not easy to search records of., – David Siegel Jul 21 at 16:54

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