When Lakisha Briggs' violent boyfriend showed up at her door last year, fresh from a prison stint related to their last fight, calling 911 and kicking him out was not an option, she tells the New York Times. Why? Because Norristown, Pennsylvania, where she lived, has a law that means renters who call police three times within four months face eviction—and Briggs had no calls left. "If I called the police to get him out of my house, I’d get evicted," says Briggs, 34, who has a 3-year-old daughter. "If I physically tried to remove him, somebody would call 911 and I’d be evicted." Days later, Briggs' boyfriend assaulted her with a broken ashtray, leaving a 4-inch stab wound in her neck. Her neighbor called 911. Norristown authorities instructed Briggs' landlord to evict her within 10 days.
Norristown is just one of hundreds of cities and towns in the US with "nuisance property" or "crime-free housing" ordinances, reports the Times. The laws are intended to force landlords to deal with disruptive and law-breaking tenants, but for victims of crime, they can create an impossible choice between safety and a place to live. "These laws threaten citizens’ fundamental right to call on the police for help," says a Harvard sociologist, whose study found a third of nuisance citations issued to landlords in Milwaukee involved domestic violence. For its part, Norristown authorities claim Briggs had ignored their instructions to get a protection order, and they'd never seen evidence of physical injury to her in 10 previous calls to her house. Briggs, backed by the ACLU, is now taking Norristown to court.