When Disability Is a 'Nuisance': How Chronic Nuisance Ordinances Push Residents with Disabilities Out of Their Homes

42 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2019

See all articles by Alisha Jarwala

Alisha Jarwala

Harvard University, Law School, Students

Sejal Singh

Harvard University, Law School, Students

Date Written: July 6, 2019

Abstract

Over the last fifteen years, municipalities across the United States have enacted chronic nuisance ordinances (CNOs), presenting a growing but under- examined threat to fair housing for people with disabilities. CNOs are local ordinances, usually at the city or county level, that label a broad array of conduct “nuisance behavior.” Definitions of nuisance behavior vary by ordinance, but often include any alleged criminal conduct occurring on or near the property or what the city deems an “excessive” number of 911 calls. A home can be labeled a “nuisance” when a threshold number of nuisance incidents occur or a certain number of 911 calls are made involving the property. When a property is deemed a nuisance, municipalities encourage—and, in some cases, even require—landlords to “abate the nuisance” by evicting tenants in the name of keeping properties orderly and safe. Civil rights advocates have examined how local governments disproportionately enforce these ordinances against victims of domestic violence and people of color. But insufficient attention has been paid to their impact on another protected class: people with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities often require emergency services, such as suicide hotlines, to get assistance with medical issues that result from their disability. CNOs thus force people with physical or mental disabilities to make an impossible choice between calling 911 and risking eviction or foregoing medical assistance in a crisis.

Using case studies gathered through open records requests, the authors will demonstrate how the use of CNOs in countless municipalities violates the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Constitution. CNO enforcement penalizes people with disabilities, by targeting behavior related to their disability, including calls for help during medical emergencies, and by targeting group homes for enforcement. CNOs thus force people with disabilities out of their homes and onto the streets—in direct violation of civil rights law.

Keywords: fair housing, disability, chronic nuisance ordinance, fair housing act, americans with disabilities act, first amendment

Suggested Citation

Jarwala, Alisha and Singh, Sejal, When Disability Is a 'Nuisance': How Chronic Nuisance Ordinances Push Residents with Disabilities Out of Their Homes (July 6, 2019). Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL), Vol. 54, 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3415952

Alisha Jarwala (Contact Author)

Harvard University, Law School, Students ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Sejal Singh

Harvard University, Law School, Students ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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