On October 2, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) announced that it reached a Conciliation Agreement with Norristown, Pennsylvania. FHEO filed a complaint on June 5, 2013 alleging that Norristown discriminated against women by enacting and enforcing an ordinance that placed landlords at risk of incurring fines or losing their rental licenses if they did not evict tenants cited for disorderly behavior. FHEO alleged that the ordinance was discriminatory because disorderly behavior was defined to include any domestic disturbances that do not require a mandatory arrest, and because the ordinance had a disproportionate effect on women who suffer from domestic violence.
Norristown stated that the purpose of the ordinance was to reduce the number of disorderly behavior calls requiring a police response. Although Norristown stated that the ordinance was gender-neutral, it agreed to settle the claims by entering into the two-year Conciliation Agreement. A new ordinance, enacted on August 6, repealed the ordinance FHEO challenged.
A HUD media release provided two examples of domestic violence victims cited for disorderly behavior by their landlords. In one, a female tenant was cited for disorderly behavior each of the three times her ex-boyfriend forced his way into her apartment and assaulted her. Another example involved a tenant who was airlifted to the hospital after being stabbed by her ex-boyfriend.
Under terms of the agreement, Norristown must:
- Publish notice in the newspaper that the earlier ordinance was repealed.
- Contract with a HUD-approved fair housing trainer.
- Provide fair housing training each year for the two years of the agreement for the Chief of Police, Director of Code Enforcement, the Municipal Administrator, all Council members, as well as others who have interaction with victims of crime or abuse. This training must also be provided to new employees and Council members.
- Develop an education and outreach program concerning the Fair Housing Act.
- Develop a brochure stating that Norristown encourages all tenants to call the police when they are in need, and that Norristown does not discourage victims of crime or disorderly behavior from calling the police. The brochure must be provided to tenants when police arrive at an apartment regarding an instance of alleged disorderly behavior. The brochure must also be provided to landlords when they apply for or renew a rental license.
- Norristown must partner with and seek guidance from a local domestic violence advocacy group to develop and publicize a community service activity that will raise awareness about domestic violence. This activity must be conducted each of the two years of the agreement term.
The HUD media release is at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/press/press_releases_media_advisories/2014/HUDNo_14-121
The Conciliation Agreement is at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=HUDSecvMunicipality.pdf