The basis of legal challenges to nuisance laws
Lawsuits have been filed against municipalities’ enforcement of nuisance laws on various grounds, including that:
- they violate citizen’s 1st Amendment right of speech and to petition their government, which includes the right to contact law enforcement;
- they violate the 5th Amendment right of due process and equal protection, because tenants are excluded from the enforcement process;
- they violate the federal Violence Against Women Act, which protects domestic violence victims living in publicly-subsidized housing from eviction based on crimes committed against them;
- because domestic violence victims are overwhelmingly women, nuisance laws violate the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex; and
- they violate the Fair Housing Act’s requirement for reasonable accommodations for domestic violence victims and people with disabilities.
Selected lawsuits pending or settled (click here for more)
ACLU lawsuit against Maplewood, Missouri, settled September 2018.
City agreed to modify its nuisance law and pay $137,000 in damages and costs.
ACLU lawsuit against Surprise, Arizona, settled March 2016.
City agreed to repeal its nuisance law and pay $200,000 in damages and costs.
ACLU lawsuit against Norristown, Pennsylvania, settled September 2014.
City agreed to repeal its nuisance law and pay $495,000 compensation and attorneys’ fees.
Federal policy changes
HUD guidelines, issued Sept. 13, 2016. Available online.
These guidelines clarify how the enforcement of nuisance laws may violate the Fair Housing Act when they have discriminatory effect against domestic violence survivors and others in need of emergency services.
States that have prohibited nuisance law enforcement against crime victims
The ACLU argues that the best way to prevent nuisance laws from harming vulnerable populations like domestic violence survivors is for states to adopt laws that prohibit cities from punishing tenants and landlords based on their use of police or emergency assistance. The following states have adopted such laws: