Are Nuisance Laws a Nuisance?

By Claire Miller


Many things that are formed with good intentions can, in a way, backfire, giving rise to other issues left unconsidered during the creation of such laws. Take, for example, nuisance laws. By way of background, nuisance laws are ordinances that are created to limit undesirable actions in a community. These “undesirable” actions may include music that’s too loud, dangerous vapors, and criminal activity. Now, these laws evidently seem great — they protect our citizens from dangerous or “annoying” actions that may occur in our neighborhoods. In many cases, the tenants of the property in which the nuisance is occurring are usually evicted, literally clearing out the nuisance. However, although this law protects countless citizens, it threatens many others and can even be seen as discriminatory. In this article, we will cover the pros and cons to these ordinances, their impacts, and a few court cases that just might change your perspective on this issue. Let’s take a deeper dive into this topic and find out if these “nuisance ordinances” are the real nuisance. 


As most things, nuisance laws have their benefits and their downsides. They do keep innumerous citizens safe and sound by limiting factors that may be observed as unsatisfactory. They also were formed with good intentions and in good faith, and have also created a lot of stability and balance in communities. The achievement of such results must mean that these laws are extremely effective, right? Wrong. These ordinances also have their not-so-great impacts. While these laws protect many communities, they also endanger some people who are trying to stay in the shadows as a result of them. In some cases, these laws can do more harm than good, especially in cases of domestic violence. Landlords and neighborhoods can also face trouble due to these laws. Let us also consider their perspectives.


From the perspective of victims of domestic violence, these ordinances can be quite harmful and threatening. This is because domestic violence is legally considered as a nuisance. As a result of tenants being evicted from their homes once a nuisance is filed, domestic violence victims are too afraid to seek help for their situation for the fear that they and their family would be forced to evict their home. This means that domestic violence victims are inhibited from reaching out for help due to these laws and the harsh impacts they would pose to the victim and in some cases, the family of the victims. If they call for help, they have a large chance of being deemed a nuisance themselves! As a result of these ordinances, the pleas of these victims are buried, and they continue to suffer, all for the fear of eviction. This situation raises many concerns. Nuisance laws, in regards to domestic violence, could be violating protects under the Fair Housing Act as well as under the Violence Against Women Act. We will later address some of the cases that were brought to light as a result of this issue. 


Now, let’s jump into the perspective of a landlord who is facing a nuisance on their property or neighborhood. It’s already quite difficult to file somebody who is feeding into your income, as a nuisance; however, for the satisfaction of other tenants, the landlord must do so. Filing eviction is both costly and time-consuming, and this is the price that a landlord must pay as a result of someone else causing what qualifies as a nuisance in their neighborhood. If this isn’t bad enough for the landlord, it gets worse. If the landlord doesn’t take care of the nuisance, either by filing eviction or another legal action, they can be fined for every day that the nuisance occurs. This means that if a landlord doesn’t have the means — the time or money — to file for eviction, they can be fined. In Los Angeles, the landlord in this situation can be fined up to $1,000 for every day that the eviction occurs, This just isn’t just towards the landlord.


The issues resulting from nuisance ordinances have been brought to the attention of authorities also. There are three court cases which I would like to highlight in this article. The first being the case of Nancy Markham v. City of Surprise in 2015. In this case, a lawsuit was filed towards an unconstitutional law that forces landlords to evict tenants if calls are made to the police as a nuisance. This occurs even when the tenant themselves is the victim. This case highlights the issues that both domestic violence victims and landlords face as a result of these laws. Secondly, let’s look at the 2017 case of Rosetta Watson v. Maplewood. In this case, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a survivor of domestic violence. This lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of a nuisance when called for police assistance with domestic violence, or domestic violence based crimes. In our last case of this article, we will address the 2017 case of Groton v. Pirro. This case was about a landlord inciting a local nuisance ordinance for calls that did not constitute criminal activity. All three of these cases show how nuisance ordinances have truly impacted the other side of our communities. Many even believe nuisance ordinances violate the 1st amendment rights, and the “right to petition the government” in particular. 


I am in no way saying or implying that we should eradicate nuisance laws. I fully support how they keep so many people safe and sound. However, what I am suggesting to you, readers, is that we should advocate for adjustments to such laws so that everyone — including domestic violence victims and landlords — can truly benefit from these laws, because after all, they are meant to establish safety and peace in communities. 


Works Cited:


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