Landlord Tenant Law: Legislating Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence

Our office previously reported on New Jersey’s Safe Housing Act, a 2008 statute that allows victims of domestic violence to terminate their residential leases on 30 days notice to the landlord. Since the time we published that article, we received an overwhelming amount of comments, and the general consensus has been that the inconvenience that the Act has caused to some landlords has been substantially outweighed by the public purpose served by the Act.

While the Safe Housing Act affords protection to tenants, we were recently informed of an ordinance that actually penalizes tenants for reporting incidents of domestic violence. Under Section 245-3 of the Norristown, Pennsylvania municipal code, residents who rent their homes were only allowed a maximum of two calls to the police for each four-month period. In the event that a third call was placed to the police during that period, the landlord’s license to rent that property would be revoked. As a result of that revocation, the town would then be forced to evict the tenants. While the town stated that the intention of the act was to minimize disorderly conduct, the legislation has resulted in domestic violence victims either losing their homes, or alternatively, being hindered from making a report out of concern for the possible repercussion.

The matter of Briggs v. Norristown (2013) , concerned a challenge to a law, which the Defendant, municipality, had enforced an ordinance against the Plaintiff, renter and her landlord by revoking the landlord’s rental license and subsequently attempting to remove Plaintiff and her infant daughter from their home, based solely on the fact that the police were called upon one too many times to protect her and her daughter from incidents of domestic violence. Following a discussion with the Plaintiff’s attorney regarding the constitutionality of the ordinance, the Defendant municipality rescinded the ordinance. However, shortly thereafter, the Defendant municipality enacted another ordinance, which was similar to the old ordinance, except that it placed most of the penalties upon the landlord, rather than upon the tenant.

The Plaintiff challenged the new ordinance based upon numerous constitutional grounds. While this matter has not yet reached a trial date, we were surprised to learn that the Norristown ordinance is not unique, and in fact, other towns around the country have implemented similar ordinances. Our office will continue to keep you updated as this matter continues to develop.