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Moving from 'Broken Windows' to Healthy Neighborhood Policy: Reforming Urban Nuisance Law in the Public and Private Sectors


Bryan M. Seiler


University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law


Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 92, No. 883, 2008
Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-19

Abstract:     
City and state governments throughout the country are increasingly turning to public nuisance law as a way to preserve public order in urban neighborhoods. Many cities have established problem property units to encourage neighborhoods to actively report public nuisance conditions and behaviors. This public order enforcement certainly fills an enforcement gap for both criminal and landlord-tenant law, but its misuse threatens dire consequences for the disenfranchised urban poor. Public nuisance law is a powerful injunctive force that can rapidly change the composition of neighborhoods, and, used improperly, can be a means to cultural, economic, and racial homogeneity.

Despite the extensive academic literature on urban renewal, there is little written about the authority and advisability of the current policy trend towards the use of public nuisance law. This Note attempts to fill this scholarly void in several ways. First, it provides an overview of the history and present application of public nuisance law, with particular attention paid to the expansion of the doctrine during the nineteenth century. Second, it summarizes the many weaknesses of the broken windows policy system that currently dominates public nuisance law. Finally, it proposes a novel combination of both public and private reforms to state and local public nuisance law to ensure the proper use of public nuisance law. In particular, this Note argues that the infusion of economic value into an area of entitlement presents the best hope of striking a balance between enforcing public order while protecting vulnerable residents. Though difficult, this is a balance that all healthy urban neighborhoods must actively seek and maintain.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 36

Keywords: public nuisance, broken windows, private attorney general, neighborhood revitalization

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Date posted: March 11, 2008 ; Last revised: April 30, 2008

Suggested Citation

Seiler, Bryan M., Moving from 'Broken Windows' to Healthy Neighborhood Policy: Reforming Urban Nuisance Law in the Public and Private Sectors. Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 92, No. 883, 2008; Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-19. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1099019

Contact Information

Bryan M. Seiler (Contact Author)
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs ( email )
301 19th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law ( email )
229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
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