BEDFORD, Ohio -- The city of Bedford agreed to stop enforcing a nuisance ordinance that is the subject of an federal lawsuit claiming it is used to discriminate against and make housing unavailable to minorities, women and people with disabilities, court records say.
The suit, filed Feb. 20 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, says Bedford’s Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinance violates the First Amendment by penalizing people for calling the police for help. It also says Bedford’s ordinance is one of the harshest in the country and targets black residents, the majority of whom are renters.
A federal judge approved the stipulation Monday afternoon, and granted a preliminary injunction to keep Bedford from enforcing the ordinance while the lawsuit is pending.
An ACLU of Ohio staff attorney said Monday the organization is pleased Bedford is suspending its enforcement of the nuisance ordinance, but is still fighting for its repeal.
“A call for help should never result in eviction. No one’s housing should be at risk simply because they called 911,” ACLU staff attorney Elizabeth Bonham said in a news release. “Bedford’s law and other nuisance laws like it don’t benefit anyone—they are used to exclude and mistreat people.”
Under Bedford’s ordinance, someone can be designated a nuisance after the ordinance is broken twice on a property or in the city. But it does not distinguish between an offender and a complainant, meaning that someone can be penalized for calling the police, the suit says.
The ordinance allows tenants can be penalized even if they are not at fault, the suit says. It also allows the city to threaten landlords with fines and criminal prosecution if they rent to “nuisance” tenants, the suit says.
Bedford officials passed the ordinance in 2005 and updated it several times over the years, most recently in 2017. The suit says the city passed the ordinance as its demographics were shifting, with more black residents moving into Bedford.