Annotated bibliography of social science research about nuisance laws
ACLU Women’s Rights Project, 2011. “Silenced: How Nuisance Ordinances Punish Crime Victims in New York.” Available online.
Based on a Social Science Research Council study of nuisance law enforcement in the cities of Binghamton and Fulton, New York, this report concludes that domestic violence was the single largest category of nuisance citations and that landlords’ common response was to evict the tenants. It also concludes that both cities routinely penalize tenants who report other crimes committed against them (including rape, theft, and assault), and in so doing, deters people from reporting crime and decreases public safety.
Gretchen Arnold, 2017. “Neoliberalism’s Assault on Women’s Citizenship: The Case of Nuisance Laws and Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S.” Forthcoming in Sociological Quarterly.
Author argues that, based on qualitative studies, nuisance laws undermine battered women’s citizenship by denying them the use of police services, curtailing their access to public housing assistance, preventing them from using civil orders of protection as a mechanism for safety, and barring them from occupying spaces in their communities. It also argues that these laws are part of a larger pattern of neoliberalism in the U.S. that has the effect of making disruptive minority groups disappear.
Gretchen Arnold, 2016. “From Victim to Offender: How Nuisance Property Laws Affect Battered Women.” In Journal of Interpersonal Violence, currently available online.
Based on interviews with 27 predominantly low-income African American women, author concludes that nuisance laws hinder battered women’s access to safe and secure housing; discourages them from calling 911; increases their vulnerability to violence; compounds the trauma of the violence; increases the abuser’s power over his victim; exacerbates the class- and race-based risks many battered women already face; holds victims accountable for the abuse; and obscures the real crime of domestic violence.
Gretchen Arnold and Megan Slusser, 2015. “Silencing Women’s Voices: Nuisance Property Laws and Battered Women.” In Law & Social Inquiry 40(4): 908-36, available here.
Based on observations, interviews with 16 professionals, and organizational documents in St. Louis, authors conclude that the St. Louis City’s nuisance law hinders battered women’s access to safe and secure housing and often ends in eviction; undermines their safety, especially by discouraging them from calling 911 for protection; holds the victim accountable for the abusive behavior; imposes financial and legal burdens on battered women; and makes it harder for advocates to deliver services effectively to battered women.
Matthew Desmond and Nicole Valdez, 2013. “Unpolicing the Urban Poor: Consequences of Third-Party Policing for Inner-city Women.” In American Sociological Review 78: 117-141, available here.
Based on a quantitative analysis of nuisance citations in Milwaukee, authors found that domestic violence-related nuisance citations were disproportionately issued in black neighborhoods, and in 83% of these the landlords either evicted or threatened to evict the tenant. Follow-up interviews with landlords showed that by labeling them a “nuisance,” the law encourages landlords to regard domestic violence as “petty, undeserving of police protection” and that landlords expected battered women to curb the abuse.
Carrie Fais, 2008. “Denying Access to Justice: The Cost of Applying Chronic Nuisance Laws to Domestic Violence.” Columbia Law Review 108: 1181-1225.
In this legal analysis of the logic of nuisance laws, author argues that they are likely to discourage domestic violence victims from calling the police for protection, exacerbate the barriers victims already face in securing housing, and unfairly blame the victim for criminal activity that she cannot control.
Joseph Mead, Megan E. Hatch, J. Rosie Tighe, Barissa Pappas, Kristi Andrasik, and Elizabeth Bonham, 2017. “Who Is a Nuisance? Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinances in Ohio.” Available online.
Based on public records from a sample of cities in Ohio, this report concludes that domestic violence victims are disproportionately targeted and evicted by nuisance laws, as are renters, users of housing vouchers and people of color; public discussions of nuisance laws often invoke race and class stereotypes; properties are often deemed nuisances because of 911 calls for medical assistance for a drug overdose or to a suicide hotline; and it is often difficult or impossible for a property owner or tenant to challenge a mistaken nuisance designation.
Emily Werth, at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, 2013. “The Cost of Being ‘Crime Free’: Legal and Practical Consequences of Crime Free Rental Housing and Nuisance Property Ordinances.” Available online.
Based on a review of nuisance property and crime free rental housing ordinances in Illinois, this report concludes that these ordinances can undermine public safety by silencing crime victims and others who need to seek emergency aid or report crime; they can increase housing instability and ultimately homelessness for victims of domestic and sexual violence, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable tenants; they can reduce the availability of affordable rental housing; and they can result in violations of tenants’ and landlords’ rights – including rights to be free from discrimination, to contact the government for assistance, and to receive due process – and thereby expose municipalities to legal liability.
Resources with additional information
The ACLU hosts a website with a wealth of information about nuisance laws, individuals’ rights, a guide for local leaders, and legal challenges to nuisance laws.
Landlords and tenants can find information about filing a complaint with a fair housing enforcement agency here.
Advocates, landlords, tenants, and others who have experienced problems with nuisance ordinances are urged to fill out this survey to add to the ACLU’s nation-wide data base.