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Controversial law in Pennsylvania angers landlords and tenants

The "one-strike ordinance" was established in Pennsylvania as a crime-fighting effort that not only evicts a person from a place of residency if they are accused of a crime, but closes the property down for six months as well. But in cities like Wilkes-Barre, where it is being touted as a way to deal with the "record-setting violence" in the area, landlords and tenants are seeing it as a violation of their constitutional rights and are beginning to take a stand against it.

One such case is that of a landlord whose property was closed because of a September incident in which police raided his apartment building and discovered what appeared to be cocaine. According to the landlord, his tenant was not only arrested, but the mayor of Wilkes-Barre personally held a news conference in front of the building to announce that it had been closed. But the landlord claims that he was not aware of any problem at the building prior to the arrest nor was he allowed his due process before his building was closed, effectively violating his constitutional rights. He has since decided to take his complaint against the city to federal court.

Many people in Pennsylvania feel that this new ordinance not only violates a person’s constitutional rights but discourages people from reporting crimes for fear of eviction. Take the case of a female victim of domestic violence in a nearby city of Norristown who did not report the fact that her boyfriend stabbed her in the neck because she feared she might lose her residence. Norristown had adopted a similar ordinance to the one being imposed in Wilkes- Barre, which also evicted tenants if police responded to a criminal complaint at their residence. And just like in Wilkes-Barre, the ordinance raised considerable concerns about whether penalizing landlords and tenants was even legal.

In the end, many people feel that the "one-strike ordinance" is actually hurting landlords and tenants in the long run and could result in complicated litigation as more landlords and tenants take their complaints to court.

Source: The Heartland Institute, "Critics Blast Pennsylvania City’s ‘One-Strike’ Property Law," Dec. 6, 2013

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