Committee advances new protections for domestic violence victims
A change to St. Louis' problem properties ordinance could help people who have faced domestic violence stay in their homes.
The public safety committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved legislation Tuesday that says frequent 911 calls for domestic violence alone do not make a property a nuisance. Such a designation can lead to an eviction.
"The point is to ensure that we are punishing the correct person," said Alderman Megan-Ellyia Green, D-15th Ward, the sponsor. "We want to punish the perpetrator and not the victim. I am one of those one in three women who have been a victim of domestic violence. I was a renter when I went through that process, and I was very lucky in the support that I had from my landlord and my neighbors when the police would be called on almost a daily basis to our residence."
The change to the problem properties law has the support of the St. Louis Association of Realtors, the American Civil Liberties Union and the city counselor's office, who testified that it simply codifies a policy the office already follows. But it cannot override state law, which allows a landlord to evict a domestic violence victim for other reasons. And though Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, was a supporter of the measure, he wasn't convinced that domestic violence victims would benefit.
"I keep hearing that word 'protect,' and I just want to be very clear that this is not doing anything to protect anyone from eviction," he said. "It's a sentence in a letter that goes out to landlords and basically allows the landlord to formally know that the city will not evict people or try to shut down the property for domestic violence."
Cohn was especially concerned about complaints from neighbors who are simply hearing an argument or witnessing violence without knowing that it's part of a domestic violence situation. Richard Sykora, with the city counselor's office, said police and city attorneys who work on the problem properties unit are always looking at patterns to determine if domestic violence might be part of the equation, and can use neighborhood orders of protection to help control a situation, even if a victim does not want to press charges.
The hope, Sykora said, is that landlords are dissuaded from evicting a domestic violence victim out of fear their property may be declared a nuisance because of calls for service.
The measure still needs two rounds of approval at the Board of Aldermen before being sent to Mayor Francis Slay.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann