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NextImg:A woman’s eviction from Richton Park home shows flaws of crime-free ordinances

Diamond Jones should have been granted a thorough explanation the moment she was alerted she was being evicted from her rental property in Richton Park.

Giving her a detailed rationale as to why she had to leave her home, plus due process, was the least officials in the south suburb could do.

The little she was told, however, is more information that what some tenants have gotten once they’re accused of breaking crime-free and nuisance ordinances, which are often broadly written. Many don’t know even know they are being evicted for such violations, as Jenna Prochaska, an assistant professor at University of Illinois Chicago School of Law, told us.

That’s alarming, for anyone who cares about fairness in housing.

Prochaska and others note that laws like the crime-free ordinance Jones supposedly violated are inherently discriminatory, more often affecting Black tenants like Jones and other people of color.

The ordinances are supposed to curb illegal activity and provide a path to evict tenants who are engaged in criminal activity. But they can cause more harm than good, Prochaska explains. Jones’ case is an example.

Editorial

Editorial

She and others at the home called police a number of times for help, including two times when shootings occurred outside the home, as the Sun-Times’ Elvia Malagón reported last week. Those calls for help were what apparently led to her eviction, Jones claims in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that challenges the constitutionality of Richton Park’s crime-free ordinance.

When Jones pressed for answers as to why her lease was being terminated, a village worker handed her a list of 11 emergency phone calls made from in or around her home since 2019. One call was made in 2022 after the family was harassed online following a shooting on the block that involved someone who had been a guest at Jones’ home, according to Richton Park officials. Another was made a few days later when someone fired into Jones’ home while her mother and two daughters were inside.

Two days after that shooting, her landlord was notified the property was in violation of the ordinance, which prohibits a tenant from engaging in, facilitating or conspiring in criminal activity. Jones was given 10 days to leave.

“No one should have to choose between keeping their home and calling the police for help,” as the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois sums it up. The ACLU says crime-free ordinances may violate “a number of legal protections.”

A deterrent to calling police?

Chicago police and other law enforcement agencies often complain that community members are tight-lipped about crime, making it harder for them to solve murders and protect public safety. Rebuilding public trust in police is essential — and if crime-free ordinances deter calls from those who live in high-crime areas and might need police help, rebuilding that trust will be even tougher.

In 2015, Illinois passed a law that aimed to protect people with disabilities and domestic or sexual violence survivors from being penalized under crime-free ordinances should they call the police for help. As well, there should be protections for all those others who call for police assistance, like Jones.

A police official, in an email, said the string of events that took place before Jones’ eviction “placed the neighborhood in danger and created a high level of fear.”

But did Richton Park consider Jones and her family were frightened, too?

There is no statewide data on how many evictions are based on crime-free ordinance violations, which exist in some 179 municipalities across the state. Instead, landlords frequently pressure tenants outside of the official court process, hire a moving company to remove their belongings, lock tenants out (which is illegal), or simply refuse to renew a lease that is expiring.

States should use their authority to rein in deeply flawed crime-free and nuisance ordinances, Prochaska argued in a research paper published in the Lewis & Clark Law Review earlier this year.

Starting on Jan. 1, municipalities in California can no longer impose penalties or require landlords to evict any tenant based on calls to law enforcement, suspected criminal activity and other so-called nuisances.

Jones said her experience has been “heartbreaking.” We suspect there are others with similar tales.

Landlords need the power to move quickly to remove a tenant who is a legitimate threat to the safety of a building or the surrounding neighborhood.

But renters shouldn’t face the loss of their home simply from calling police for help too often.

Otherwise, to paraphrase Public Enemy, 9-1-1 will remain a joke.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.