October 15, 2018
Written by Jasmine Amons, Women’s Policy Institute Fellow and Rene Williams, Staff Attorney at National Housing Law Project
Katia called 911 after her boyfriend accused her of cheating and beat her. After the police arrived, Katia declined to file a report, afraid that doing so would only make her boyfriend more violent.
Katia’s landlord reached out after the incident. The landlord said Katia’s 911 call violated the city’s nuisance ordinance. The landlord was apologetic, but apologies wouldn’t change the fact that Katia needed to find a new place to live.
Unfortunately, Katia’s story is not uncommon. Nuisance ordinances – also called disorderly house ordinances or crime free ordinances – proliferated in the 1990s as property managers and police were encouraged to impose penalties on tenants engaging in “nuisance” activity, like playing loud music at night or not regularly mowing the lawn (Edelman, 2017). Shockingly, these ordinances can also label a tenant as a “nuisance” when their rental is the site of a certain number of calls for police or emergency assistance. Once a tenant is labeled a nuisance, they can be evicted from their home.
Evictions resulting from nuisance ordinance violations disproportionately impact cisgender and transgender women and gender non-conforming people from low-income communities and communities of color. The ACLU’s 2008 report on Domestic Violence and Homelessness found that almost 50 percent of women experiencing homelessness in San Diego, California are domestic violence survivors. And in a society where one in five transgender people are at risk of needing shelter services and an estimated 30% to 50% of transgender people are victims of interpersonal violence at some point in their lives, making someone choose between enduring an abusive situation or keeping their home is unconscionable.
Current California law provides some protections for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, and elder and dependent adult abuse from being evicted due to the violence committed against them; however, individuals must provide a police report or restraining order to prove that they are a victim. This is an unnecessarily high threshold given everything we know about abuse, gender-based violence, and how rarely victims report violent incidents to law enforcement.
Furthermore, existing protections against the negative impacts of nuisance ordinances are not extended to individuals who might call for assistance after experiencing other types of emergencies, such as a severe mental health episode or a threat of suicide or self-harm.
This is where California’s Assembly Bill 2413– The Right to A Safe Home Act – steps in.
Authored by Assemblymember David Chiu (CA-17) and recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, AB 2413 ensures that Californians no longer have to choose between seeking help and keeping their home. The bill extends protections from nuisance ordinance-related evictions to a broader set of individuals, including victims of other crimes and individuals in an emergency. AB 2413 also assists individuals who are fighting evictions by making a violation of the new law a defense that the tenant can use. Additionally, the bill addresses the documentation burden survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, and elder and dependent adult face when trying to avoid eviction based on the abuse committed against them. With AB 2413, the state of California will finally cease to answer the words “Me Too” with an eviction notice.
Getting AB 2413 signed is just the beginning. Advocates must now turn their sights to successful implementation of the bill across California’s 58 counties. Additionally, while states like Iowa and Illinois have similar laws on the books, many communities across the United States lack comparable state-level protections for crime and abuse survivors and individuals in emergency situations.
We need your help to continue expanding protections for survivors. Click here if you are interested in supporting AB 2413 implementation efforts in California or if you would like to introduce similar legislation in your state.
With your support, we can guarantee that every cisgender and transgender woman and gender non-conforming individual can call for help without fear of losing their home.
Jasmine Amons is a Women’s Policy Institute Fellow as well as a Program Associate at the National Center for Youth Law and Renee Williams is a Staff Attorney at the National Housing Law Project. If you would like more information about AB 2413 or are interested in implementation efforts, please email email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org.