Public Law

Public Law Journal: Winter 2016, Vol. 39, No. 1

Domestic Violence Victims a Nuisance We Cannot Ignore

By Filomena Gehart*

Editor’s note – The following article received an honorable mention in the 2015 Public Law Section Student Writing Competition. For more details about this year’s competition, please see page 26 of this edition.

Lakisha Briggs’s ex-boyfriend broke a glass ashtray against her head and used the broken glass to stab Lakisha in the neck.1 Lakisha lost consciousness from blood loss, a neighbor called the police for help, and a trauma helicopter flew Lakisha to the hospital.2 Three days later, the city of Norristown, Pennsylvania told Lakisha’s landlord his rental license would be revoked until Lakisha vacated his property.3 Because the police were called to respond to three incidents of domestic violence at her residence in the span of four months, Lakisha, the victim and a single mother, faced eviction.4 A police officer told her, "You are on three strikes. We’re gonna have your landlord evict you."5

Lakisha Briggs faced eviction because of her city’s nuisance ordinance.6 Nuisance ordinances generally impose fines on a property owner or landlord when the police are called to respond to incidents of crime a certain number of times at the same residence.7 Many nuisance ordinances also revoke a landlord’s rental license if a property is deemed a nuisance, and thus, the landlords are encouraged to evict the tenant making the police calls. Historically, public nuisance ordinances were used to address frequent cases of illegal alcohol sales and prostitution at the same residence.8 Today, public nuisance ordinances are used to prevent the use of property for illegal acts, such as drug activity, by holding owners responsible for the crime on their property.9

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