Are Nuisance Ordinance Laws Discriminatory?

Public nuisance ordinance laws have been critiqued by U.S. Senators like Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow as being discriminatory. In their letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), they urge that, in recent years, these laws have disproportionately affected domestic violence survivors. While it has yet to be decided if these local ordinances are indeed discriminatory by HUD, it poses the question of whether nuisance ordinance laws are beneficial for property owners overall.

What is a Public Nuisance Ordinance?

Pinpointing a clear definition for nuisance ordinances (also known as disorderly house ordinances or crime free ordinances) is tricky as the specifics of the law vary from city to city. MRSC defines it as laws that are in place to remove “nuisances,” which typically involves “an unreasonable or unlawful use of property that results in material annoyance, inconvenience, discomfort, or injury to another person or the public.” Some common nuisances are noise, animals, sewage and unsanitary conditions, and the stockpiling of junk. If a filed complaint is verified as a nuisance and a citation is served, property owners are required to abate the nuisance or face significant fines. As a property manager, this generally means you’ll need to evict the resident that committed the nuisance.

Nuisance Ordinance Pros

Public nuisance ordinance laws are in place to protect communities from crime and ensure public safety. As a property manager, this law allows you to report and remove dangerous renters who are a threat to your community. While you probably mitigate noise complaints before it’s formally documented with the police, when it comes to serious offences, many cities use frequent police activity to measure whether or not a resident is a nuisance. This way, if no one submits a formal complaint, a resident conducting harmful or illegal activity can be determined a nuisance (and therefore later abated) by the police.

This law not only insures that dangerous renters stay out of your community, but within your surrounding neighborhood as well. By eliminating criminal activity and enforcing public standards (like front-yard trash) in properties around your region, your community’s reputation and value doesn’t suffer at your neighbor’s hands. This can help you attract new renters.

Nuisance Ordinance Cons

The issue with measuring whether or not a resident is a nuisance based on how often the police are called to the property is that it can negatively affect victims of domestic violence. If the victim reports the domestic abuse to the police (or a worried neighboring resident calls 911) too many times, the victim (regardless of if their attacker is residing in the unit) is at risk of being systematically deemed a nuisance. As the U.S. senators explained in their letter, this can prevent domestic violence victims from seeking the help they need, in fear that they and their family will become homeless. While not all domestic violence victims are women, Peters (D-MI) and Stabenow (D-MI) point out that a staggering 85% of reported victims are women and these nuisance ordinance laws may violate the protections pertaining to them in the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

As you naturally build relationships with residents living in your community, being forced to evict someone who is a victim can be a hard pill to swallow. Regardless, filing an eviction (especially when unexpected) is time consuming and costly. While your local county might have different guidelines pertaining to the cost of abatement, generally abatements cost the same as if you filed regular unlawful detainer action. In fact, the County of Los Angeles’ guidelines (Ord. 2013-0043 § 1, 2013.) state that:

“In any action or proceeding to abate a public nuisance, whether by administrative proceeding, judicial proceeding, or summary abatement, the owner of the parcel upon which the public nuisance is found to exist shall be liable for all costs of abatement incurred by the County, including, but not limited to, administrative costs, enforcement costs, and any and all costs incurred in the physical abatement of the public nuisance.”

If you do not abate the nuisance by the allotted time, you’ll be liable for civil penalties. In the County of Los Angeles, this could be a fine of up to $1,000 for every day the public nuisance occurs.

Public nuisance ordinance laws both protect and limit property managers and owners in safeguarding their community, staff and residents. While it has yet to be determined whether or not HUD deems these ordinances to be discriminatory, it’s clear that these laws are here to stay. Be sure to look up your local ordinances in case your community ever gets affected.

Do you think nuisance ordinance laws should be deemed as discriminatory? Have you ever benefited or been negatively impacted by these laws? Do you think your community and residents are further protected through local laws like nuisance ordinances?

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Becky Bower is the Content Strategist here at the CIC Blog. She holds a degree in English, with a focus in creative writing, from CSU Channel Islands. Her biggest weakness is cake and favorite superhero is Batman.

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