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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Bedford Agrees to Repeal Nuisance Ordinance, Pay $350,000 to Settle Lawsuit Filed by ACLU and Legal Aid Society

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2020 at 11:48 AM

  • Bedford City Hall, City of Bedford

The city of Bedford will repeal its Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinance, work with community organizations on better fair house training and pay $350,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Ohio, the Fair Housing Center for Rights & Research and Legal Aid Society of Cleveland on behalf of a resident who was threatened with eviction after the city issued warning letters to her landlord because she had repeatedly called the police over concerning behavior by a neighbor, which she did at the urging of her landlord.

Studies have shown that CANOs, more commonly known as nuisance laws, are intentionally broad tools disproportionately used to target minorities, renters, those dealing with mental illness or drug addiction, and victims of domestic violence under the guise of upholding vague community decency standards.

How do they work?

Basically, anytime authorities are called to a residence, cities with CANOs on the books can log the activity, with repeated visits allowing them to send warning letters, levy fines and cause landlords to evict tenants who did nothing but seek the help of public safety forces.

Just some examples of how Bedford has used the ordinance:

- In June 2018, Bedford sent a nuisance letter to a property owner about a female tenant who had called for police assistance to deal with an abusive, harassing ex-boyfriend, including an incident where he kicked in her door.

- In 2018, a nuisance letter was sent about a mother who called for assistance with her son who was experiencing a mental health crisis. In another 2018 case, a mother was fined $250 for calling for assistance with her daughter who was bipolar and amidst a crisis.

- Bedford fined a property owner $250 because a renter called the police out of concern that her boyfriend was suicidal. The city had previously designated the property as a nuisance after the tenant had sought help for her boyfriend after he threatened to kill himself.

When its CANO was passed in 2005, the mayor went further than most in transparently admitting what the law was really about: "One of the things that we take pride in is middle class values," he said at the time. "We believe in neighborhoods not hoods. That is one of the reasons we passed that nuisance law tonight. I have made mention of the students walking down the streets and those are predominantly African American kids who bring in that mentality from the inner city."

It took a lawsuit, but the city is moving in the right direction.

“A call for help should never result in eviction. Now that this law is repealed, my client and others like her can feel safer in their homes,” said Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio. “Bedford has done the right thing. We are pleased to work with them on becoming a more welcoming community, and we urge other Ohio cities to strike these laws down now.”

“This case provides notice to other cities about the intended or unintended consequences of nuisance ordinances, which too often have negative impact on Black and Brown people, people with disabilities and victims of crime,” said Colleen Cotter, Legal Aid’s executive director. Legal Aid attorney Sara Bird added, “Ms. Somai reached out to Legal Aid for assistance when she and her son faced eviction for calling the police for help. Her story and her bravery in pursuing this case had an impact on her entire community. We are proud of Ms. Somai and grateful to the City of Bedford for seeing a way forward to a more inclusive community.”

The other 20 communities in Northeast Ohio with CANOs on the books should take notice and do the right thing.

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