Slate Calls Out Norristown for Really Dumb Law

ACLU says it forces vulnerable women to choose between abuse, eviction.

Norristown’s got a law that a landlord can evict a tenant if they make three or more 911 calls within the span of four months. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick thinks that law is really, really dumb. Why? Because this happens.

[Lakisha] Briggs did not call the police on the night of June 23, 2012, when the same boyfriend hit her in the head with a glass ashtray then stabbed her in the neck with a piece of broken glass. The police had already warned her that she was on her third strike after their last visit. So she didn’t make the call and—just before she passed out—Briggs begged a neighbor not to do so on her behalf.

Afterward, the police told her landlord he’d lose his license if he didn’t evict her within ten days. Briggs has since moved. Now the ACLU is suing Norristown over the policy, and the case is drawing national attention. The purpose of the policy, as Lithwick points out, is to encourage landlords not to put up with violent or drug-dealing tenants. That good intention, she argues, is far outweighed by the law’s unintended consequences.

The Norristown ordinance and its counterparts across the country don’t simply imperil poor and vulnerable women because they force the women to choose between being abused or being evicted. It also makes their landlords the unwilling arbiters of whether and when the women deserve that protection in the first instance. Policing domestic violence disputes is one of the most difficult things our law enforcement officers are tasked with. Contracting that out to landlords is not the answer.