By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit against Norristown yesterday afternoon, challenging an ordinance it says punishes innocent tenants and their landlords for requesting assistance from police.
Under Section 245-3 of the Norristown Municipal Code landlords could be subject to fines up to a $1,000 a day and possibly lose their rental license if tenants call police to a property three times in four months for drug related activity, as well as “disorderly behavior.” The ACLU says the law encourages landlords to evict clients whose call to police violate the ordinance.
“Our client was so afraid to call police that she ended up being hospitalized,” says Sara Rose, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
The group claims domestic violence calls to police fall within the definition of “disorderly behavior.” Rose says plaintiff Lakisha Briggs was threatened with eviction under Section 245-3 after she called police on her violent ex-boyfriend during an incident where he attacked her with a brick. Rose says Briggs was so afraid that she and her 3-year-old daughter would end up homeless, she did not call police in June 2012 when the ex-boyfriend brutally attacked her by hitting her in the head with a glass ashtray and then stabbed her in the neck with broken glass.
“She ended up being airlifted to the hospital,” says Rose. “We want to make sure that no other resident suffers the same fate as our client.”
Rose says the law is unconstitutional on First Amendment and due process grounds. She says the ACLU is seeking to block Norristown’s enforcement of the law.
“There is no mechanism for tenant to challenge whether their conduct violated the ordinance or not because all of the fines are against the landlord,” says Rose.
Representatives from the borough of Norristown did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For a link to the complaint: http://www.aclupa.org/downloads/Briggscmplnt.pdf