On Tuesday, State Representatives Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) and Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) jointly issued a press release urging Norristown officials to rescind or change their “nuisance ordinance.” They also indicated their plans to draft and introduce legislation to keep Commonwealth municipalities from enacting any laws similar to the nuisance ordinance in Norristown.
The borough law in question was adopted in 2008 and permitted the municipal administrator to suspend or revoke a rental license for a property if the police are called to that property three times within four months for disorderly behavior. To encourage landlords to include language in the lease that establish that it would be a breach of the lease for a tenant to be convicted for disorderly behavior, a financial penalty for the landlord was included in the new law. It is a provision that has been eyed by other municipalities within the county.
Many county boroughs and townships have ordinances on the books that enact fines and penalties for multiple “false” alarm calls that task law enforcement and run the risk of “crying wolf” too many times. These are mostly annual penalties and usually caused by faulty alarm systems or the failure of the owner to properly maintain or operate the system.
In the Norristown case, it could be a human being calling for help one too many times. Imagine being afraid to dial 911 because you may be evicted from your home.
Recently the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the borough citing that, among other things, it punishes tenants who require police assistance during domestic disputes.
Many law enforcement officials will tell you that responding to domestic dispute complaints can be dangerous, not only for the victims, but for the police as well. A change of heart and cooler heads can turn an initially dangerous situation into one where one person decides not to press charges against the other and the responding police aren’t needed. Sometimes the couple forms a united front and the officers become the enemy just because they responded. This scenario can play out many times within the same home with the same people involved. Perhaps that’s what motivated Norristown officials to enact the law five years ago. If it was, the officials were wrong.
The provision within Norristown’s rental license ordinance was designed to reduce incidences of disorderly behavior by requiring landlords to assist in their reduction. Domestic violence incidents were caught up in the desire to curb loud parties, loitering, simple neighbor disputes and other nuisance calls.
We need to remember that law enforcement officers are trained to take all situations into account when responding to domestic disputes – violent and non-violent. The situation could become violent or deadly for victims or responders in an instant. That’s why you can’t take the option of calling for help away from anyone.
Vereb and Stephens plan to work together to draft legislation which would prohibit municipalities across Pennsylvania from enforcing nuisance ordinances which threaten to displace victims of crime who contact police.
Domestic violence is not a nuisance, it’s a crime. When people need help, they shouldn’t be afraid to call 911.