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"Crime-Free" and Nuisance Ordinances Harm Communities

Sketch of a police car in front of a house.

At Open Communities, we are extending our commitment to fair housing beyond our backyard. With a keen focus on advocacy, our efforts span from local initiatives in Evanston to statewide collaborations with fellow housing justice advocates. The latter includes active engagement in the Community Safety Through Stable Homes Act Coalition, where we and other advocacy groups throughout Illinois are promoting legislation to address the adverse effects of so-called “crime-free” and nuisance ordinances (CFNOs). Let’s talk about what CFNOs are and how they may impact their communities. 

 

Understanding CFNOs  

 

CFNOs represent a complex regulatory landscape that imposes penalties on both landlords and tenants based on their interactions with law enforcement or emergency services. Crime-free housing and nuisance ordinances are two separate methods with key differences; however, many communities have implemented both. These ordinances, often intertwined, categorize properties as "nuisances" and present significant challenges for both landlords and tenants.  


Crime-free housing ordinances can require that landlords participate in training, conduct criminal background checks, and use a crime-free lease addendum.

Violations of a crime-free lease addendum could obligate the property owner to evict tenants for alleged criminal activity, regardless of whether the incident results in a criminal conviction. There have been instances where the tenants being evicted were actually the victims of a crime.

In some jurisdictions, the actions of guests or household members who are minors can be considered a violation. In other areas, the ordinance requires the eviction of the entire household for alleged criminal activity by a tenant, even if the alleged activity happened away from the home. These addenda can violate tenants’ rights to due process and are often in direct conflict with fair housing law.


Nuisance Ordinances are local laws defining violations to include a wide range of activities, spanning from noise complaints to serious criminal activity.


A piece of paper with the headline "Notice of Eviction" coming out of an open business envelope. Photo by Allan Vega on Unsplash.
According to the National Housing Law Project, “Under the local law, property owners are obligated to ‘abate the nuisance’ – which means in effect to evict or remove the tenants from the property. Property owners who fail to ‘abate the nuisance’ may be subject to fines, fees, condemnation orders, or a loss of their rental property license” (NHLP). 

When tenants are facing these mandated evictions, they may not be told that they are being evicted because of a CFNO violation. An example of this was seen by a tenant in Richton Park, a suburb of Chicago (Malagón, 2023). The tenant was not informed of how they violated the ordinance when they were delivered an eviction notice. Later, they would learn that it was due to their contact with law enforcement when they were the victim of crime.  

 

The Impact of CFNOs: A Disproportionate Burden  

 

In Illinois, there are at least 139 municipalities and 6 counties with some form of CFNO. The implementation of CFNOs is sometimes triggered by perceived or actual racial demographic changes within or around a community. Black and Latine communities are disproportionately impacted by these ordinances. Communities of color make up a disproportionate share of renters and those with contact with the criminal legal system - the groups primarily targeted by CFNOs. This means that even if written as racially neutral, the ordinances will have a disparate impact on communities of color.  

A lawsuit from the United States Department of Justice against the city of Hesperia, California, and the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department claimed that their crime-free policies violated the Fair Housing Act. Their investigation showed that

“African American renters were almost four times as likely as non-Hispanic white renters to be evicted because of the ordinance, and Latino renters were 29 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white renters to be evicted. Sheriff’s Department data showed that 96 percent of the people the Sheriff’s Department targeted for eviction under the ordinance in 2016 had lived in majority-minority Census blocks” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2019).  

Proponents of the ordinances claim they are an effective means to deter crime in their areas. However, there is a notable lack of evidence supporting the effectiveness of CFNOs in enhancing community safety. A report from RAND, an independent policy research organization, analyzed 104 municipalities with CFNOs. Their research showed no statistically significant correlation between the change in crime rates in communities with CFNOs versus those without. They did, however, find a direct relationship between CFNO implementation and eviction rates (RAND, 2023).

These ordinances deter victims from seeking help. In instances where CFNOs aim to address frequent calls to emergency services, they disproportionately impact victims of domestic violence and individuals with disabilities. Both are groups protected under the Fair Housing Act. In the case of domestic violence victims, they have additional defense through the Violence Against Women Act, which protects survivors from unjust evictions. 

The International Crime Free Association, the nationwide organization that supports the implementation of Crime-Free Programs, attempts to outline the success of these tools, stating, “one way we can measure our success is by reducing the number of police calls for service” (International Crime Free Association, 2022). None of the reviews provided are from the perspective of landlords or tenants in areas with CFNOs.


These programs also claim to improve stability for property owners. While this is yet to be shown, they do provide an undue burden in the form of fines and fees. For example, DeKalb, Illinois has, “a minimum fine of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00) per day for every day that rental agreement does not contain the Crime Free Housing Lease Provision (City of DeKalb Landlord-Tenant Regulations, 2022). 

 

Proposed Legislation: Community Safety Through Stable Homes Act  

 

In response to these concerns, the Community Safety Through Stable Homes Act aims to mitigate the adverse effects of CFNOs. This legislation prohibits discriminatory evictions and ensures access to emergency services without repercussions. To enforce violations of the Act, a person may file an action in circuit court for injunctive and/or monetary relief. Additionally, the law mandates that counties, municipalities, and housing authorities repeal any program, ordinance, or other regulation that violates the Act and prohibits home rule from having regulations that are inconsistent with the law. By shielding landlords from punitive measures and requiring municipalities to align their ordinances with the Act, this legislation represents a significant stride towards fairer housing practices statewide.  

It is crucial to recognize that the Community Safety Through Stable Homes Act does not hinder law enforcement efforts; rather, it prevents the unjust punishment of landlords and families solely based on police contact.

Landlords will still be able to initiate nuisance-related evictions and conduct background checks. Passage of this legislation would make Illinois, “a leader on this issue and join California and Maryland, states which recently took action to curtail or prohibit the use of these ordinances” (Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, 2024). By promoting fair housing practices this legislation paves the way for safer, more inclusive communities across Illinois.  

 

Moving Forward  

 

As the proposed bill progresses through the legislative process, it is essential to continue advocating for policies that prioritize community safety while upholding fundamental rights. Open Communities remains committed to this cause, working to ensure equitable access to housing and justice for not just our local community, but all residents of Illinois. We are in amazing company with other coalition members. Learn more about some of our collaborators below.   

 

Other endorsing organizations include:   

 

Access Living, Alliance for Safety and Justice, Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County, Arab American Family Services, BEDS Plus Inc, Campaign Zero, Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, Citizen Action/Illinois, Community Equity Lab at NYU Law School, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, HOPE Fair Housing Center, Housing Action Illinois, Illinois Coalition Against Domestic



Violence, Illinois Justice Project, Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living, Law Center for Better Housing, Legal Action Chicago, National Housing Law Project, North/Northwest Suburban Housing Task Force, Progress Center for Independent Living, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, TASC, Inc. (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, Thresholds, Uptown People's Law Center 

  

Bill Press Release  

 

 

Resources for more information  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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