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Torn Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Crime-Free Ordinances in Illinois

Imagine that you are a Latinx couple moving into an apartment in Granite City, Illinois.[1] Your nephew, Jose, recently burglarized a local bar and came to your home because he did not know anywhere else he could go. After a few days, you tell your nephew to leave, and he refuses. You tell your son to call the police. Even though you did the right thing, your landlord must kick you out due to the City’s crime-free ordinance.[2] Now imagine that you and your family are at a church picnic in Granite City, Illinois. Your teenage son kicks an off-duty police officer’s shin, thinking it was a joke. Later, you find out your entire family is being evicted for violation of the crime-free ordinance law.[3]

These two scenarios, while fiction, pull from the facts of real situations.[4] It encapsulates the potential pitfalls of enacting crime-free ordinances. Ultimately, crime-free ordinances are enacted under the guise of promoting public and community safety, but actually serve as pernicious ways to discriminate against people of color, leaving victims of domestic violence torn between a rock and a hard place, and create a gross extension of state and local police powers. Through understanding the background, the variations within Illinois, and policy behind crime-free ordinances, a path to an alternative is made clear.

What are Crime-Free Ordinances?

Crime-free ordinances are also known as nuisance ordinances.[5] These ordinances penalize tenants and landlords for police calls to the property or  suspected criminal activity.[6] Generally, what constitutes a “crime” or “nuisance” can be broadly construed.[7] For example, eviction-worthy events could include anything from a certain number of calls to the police (within a certain timeframe), to citations for things such as not cutting your grass[8], and having houseguests who allegedly committed crimes.[9] Under these crime-free ordinances, landlords are required to enforce these laws or might face losing their rental license or paying fines to the city.[10] Proponents urge these ordinances empower landlords and rental housing owners to prevent crime on their property-but the reality is much darker.[11]

Crime-Free Ordinances in Illinois

There are approximately 100 local jurisdictions in Illinois that have adopted crime-free ordinances.[12] For example, the Springfield Municipal Code Nuisance Ordinance Section 98.06 states that a nuisance can be declared when 3 incidents occur within 24 months or when 2 or more criminal activities occur within 60 days from any property within the city limits.[13] Ostensibly, the policy behind the nuisance ordinance is to protect the “public health, safety, and welfare” of the city.[14] However, pursuant to §98.06(b)(1)(ii)(a) of the statute, a nuisance can be 2-3 (depending on the timeframe)[15] instances of unlawful possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor in accordance to 235 ILCS 5/6-20.[16] In practice, that could mean a family with a high school-aged teenager who liked to host parties could potentially get their entire family evicted if police had to break up a party on two different occasions. Some of the remedies offered in the ordinance include orders that the property is closed and secured against all use and occupancy for not less than 30 days but not more than 180 days.[17] The property owner may also have to pay a penalty of up to $100 per day if the owner had actual knowledge of a chronic nuisance and did not take any action to stop the behavior. [18] Additionally, the statute provides that a court when considering evidence of a chronic property nuisance case may consider (1) the disturbance of neighbors; and (2) the recurrence of loud and obnoxious noises.[19]

Another example is Granite City’s crime-free ordinance. Recently, the city relaxed its rules due to two civil rights lawsuits and a change in state law.[20] Before the change, the city’s law required landlords to evict tenants if anyone in their home, including a guest, was charged with a felony.[21] This was true even if that felony was committed somewhere outside of the rental property. Between 2014 and 2018, 111 people were accused of committing offenses that did not occur at the home of the renters who then faced eviction under the statute.[22] Notably, Granite City changed their law to only evict for crimes that occurred within the rental property.[23] Clearly, this shows that laws, like Granite City’s original ordinance, were too punitive and caused community harm. [24]

From these examples, crime-free ordinances can be seemingly neutral laws but have a disparate impact on communities of color, people with disabilities, or victims of police violence.[25] Given the mistrust communities of color have towards police[26], these laws could be used to target evicting minorities from apartments and worsen race tensions.[27] Even having an addendum saying you can be evicted for criminal (or suspected) criminal behavior can be a pernicious way for landlords to evict minorities from their buildings. Additionally, any victim of a crime, especially a domestic violence crime, should not be fearful of calling the police in the fear of losing their home or being fined.[28] Here, giving landlords increased power to deal with potential crime on their property in the name of “public safety” is a way to discriminate against marginalized communities.[29] This is especially true given that across the United States, renters are typically young people, racial or ethnic minorities, and those with lower incomes.[30] Given systemic racial inequities, minorities and communities of color are more likely to be faced with crime free housing ordinances since they are more likely to be renting than owning a home and more heavily policed.[31]

A New Way Forward

Given the pernicious usage of crime-free ordinances to perpetuate racial discrimination in housing, cities should reconsider the value of these ordinances. Although local states and cities have police powers under the 10th Amendment,[32] that should not be an excuse to shield cities from using policies to bolster the power of local police and deprive innocent citizens of their lives, liberties, or homes. Ultimately, getting rid of crime-free ordinances altogether would be a start to promote greater racial justice in cities. However, if cities are unwilling to repeal crime-free ordinances, one alternative is to implement a complaint hotline.[33] This way, people have a forum to place complaints without initially engaging with the police and law enforcement.[34] This would ensure that innocent families are not displaced from their homes without just cause. Another alternative would be to provide greater exceptions so the statutes become less punitive. This includes creating exceptions for any calls regarding domestic violence.

Additionally, a new standard should be formed when analyzing violations under a crime-free ordinance. Using a “totality of the circumstance” approach under the “reasonable tenant” standard would ensure that greater contextualization is considered before formal eviction or charges. Under the “reasonable tenant” standard, this would evaluate the circumstance based on how an average tenant would use their unit. For example, if there was a domestic violence call made because a boyfriend was beating up his girlfriend, a reasonable tenant would argue that making a call to the police would be reasonable and should not constitute a nuisance under the ordinance.

One example of a city that amended their crime-free ordinance example is found in Oak Park, Illinois.[35] Oak Park originally had a crime-free ordinance that was implemented on July 18, 2016 due to a number of criminal activities that took place on rental properties.[36] However, on April 20, 2022, the NAACP and the NYU School of Law sent the Village a letter stating that their ordinance was vague and overbroad.[37] After considering the letter, the Village Attorney, Interim Police Chief, and other village staff came to the conclusion that the Village should repeal the Crime Free Housing Ordinance.[38] Therefore, cities that have implemented these crime-free ordinances are starting to realize that crime-free ordinances may not be as effective as originally thought.


In conclusion, crime-free ordinances have been around since 1992.[39] However, this longevity does not justify the social injustices these laws have on vulnerable and marginalized communities. A repeal of all crime-free ordinances is ideal, but if cities are unwilling to get rid of these laws, then a reconsideration of the legal standards and procedures should be explored.


[1] See J. Justin Wilson, Federal Trial Court Upholds Notorious Compulsory-Eviction Law, Inst. for Justice (Sept. 16, 2022), (providing multiple examples of Granite City’s crime-free ordinance in action).

[2] Deborah N. Archer, ‘Crime-free’ Housing Ordinances, Explained, The Appeal (Feb. 17, 2021), (discussing the experience of Jessica Barron and her family’s eviction in Granite City, Illinois after the police were called when her teenage son’s friend came over after burglarizing a local bar).

[3] Wilson, supra note 1 (noting that in 2019 Granite City ordered an entire family’s eviction after one of the family members kicked a police officer’s shin at a church picnic).

[4] Id. (stating more than 300 compulsory-eviction orders took place between 2014 and 2019 and providing real examples similar to the fictionalized scenarios presented here).

[5] Crime-Free Housing & Nuisance Ordinances, ACLU Ill., (last visited Nov. 20, 2022).

[6] Id.

[7] Cinnamon Janzer, Crime-Free Housing Ordinances are Spreading, but Some Groups are Fighting Back, Next City (Jan. 2, 2020), (noting that Emily Werth, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois, stated that what constitutes a crime or a nuisance under these often broadly worded ordinances can range drastically).

[8] See e.g., Alisha Jarwala and Sejal Singh, Calling 911 or Not Mowing the Lawn Can Cost Disabled People Their Homes, Talk Poverty (July 31, 2019), (describing how Richard McGary, who suffers from AIDS, lost his home because he could not clean his yard and violated Portland, Oregon’s crime-free ordinance because his unkempt yard was deemed a “nuisance.”).

[9] Janzer, supra note 7; see also Austin Berg, How Illinois Families Can Face Eviction For Crimes They Didn’t Commit, Ill. Policy (Aug. 16, 2019), (describing how Jess Baron and her family faced eviction after helping the police find a criminal who happened to be Jess’ son’s friend who was sleeping in the Baron’s basement).

[10] Janzer, supra note 7.

[11] Mike Scobey, Crime Free Housing Ordinances, Ill. Realtors, (last visited Nov. 15, 2022).

[12] See Understanding crime-free and nuisance ordinances for tenants and landlords, Ill. Legal Aid Online, (last visited Nov. 18, 2022) (noting the municipalities that have some form of a crime-free ordinance, including the city of Chicago).

[13] Springfield, Ill., Code of Ordinances ch. 98, §98.06 (2016).

[14] Springfield, Ill., Code of Ordinances ch. 98, §98.01 (2016).

[15] Springfield, Ill., Code of Ordinances ch. 98, §98.06 (b)(1)(i) (defining “chronic nuisance property” as one where “ [w]ithin a 24-month period and as a result of no less than three separate inspections or incidents (multiple inspections or incidents which occur on the same calendar date shall not be considered separate inspections or incidents) has been the source of three or more violations of this Code.”).

[16] Springfield, Ill., Code of Ordinances ch. 98, §98.06 (b)(1)(ii)(a)(2016).

[17] Springfield, Ill., Code of Ordinances ch. 98, §98.06 (h)(1) and (2).

[18] Springfield, Ill., Code of Ordinances ch. 98, §98.06 (h)(1) and (2).

[19] Springfield, Ill., Code of Ordinances ch. 98, §98.06 (h)(3).

[20] Lexi Cortes, Granite City Changes ‘Crime-Free’ Rules for Renters Amid Complaints and State Law Update, NPR (Jan. 8, 2020, 10:46 AM),

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Cortes, supra note 20.

[24] Crime-Free Housing & Nuisance Ordinances, ACLU Ill., (last visited Mar. 24, 2023) (describing how research has shown that crime-free ordinances are disproportionately used against Black people and other communities of color). Additionally, these ordinances harm survivors of domestic violence who seek police protection and those with disabilities. Id.

[25] Crime-Free Housing & Nuisance Ordinances, ACLU Ill., (last visited Nov. 20, 2022); see e.g., Ricardo Lopez, Justice Department claims Hesperia ‘crime free’ ordinance targeted Latino, black renters, Desert Sun (Dec. 2, 2019, 6:28 PM), (explaining how the U.S. Justice Department sued the city of Hesperia, California for allegations that the city worked with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s. Department to enforce the crime-free ordinance that discriminated against Latino and Black renters).

[26] Steve Crabtree, Low Trust in Police Complicates Crime Problem in Chicago, Gallup (May 30, 2019), (stating “[a]lmost six in 10 Chicago-area fragile community residents (59%) say they know ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of people who have been treated unfairly by the police.”).

[27] Archer, supra note 2 (explaining that “[b]y linking housing policy to the brutal efficiency and racism of mass criminalization, crime-free housing ordinances risk profound damage to the physical, economic, and psychological well-being of their victims. Though formally race neutral, these laws promote racial segregation in substantial ways.”).

[28] Archer, supra note 2 (stating that in Matthew Desmond’s book he accounts that, “Milwaukee police in 2008 and 2009 issued nuisance citations to landlords every 33 hours, with domestic violence as the third-most common “nuisance activity,” exceeding the total number of all other assault, disorderly conduct, and drug charges combined.”).

[29] Colleen Walsh, Solving racial disparities in policing, Harv. Gazette (Feb. 23, 2021), (noting “[r]ooted in slavery, racial disparities in policing and police violence, they say, are sustained by systemic exclusion and discrimination, and fueled by implicit and explicit bias.”).

[30] Drew Desilver, As national eviction ban expires, a look at who rents and who owns in the U.S., Pew Rsch. Ctr. (Aug. 2, 2021),

[31] Drew Desilver, Michael Lipka & Dalia Fahmy, 10 things we know about race and policing in the United States, Pew Rsch. Ctr. (June 3, 2020), (noting “84% of black adults said that, in dealing with police, blacks are generally treated less fairly than whites; 63% of whites said the same. Similarly, 87% of blacks and 61% of whites said the U.S. criminal justice system treats black people less fairly.”); see also Robin Smyton, How Racial Segregation and Policing Intersect in America, Tufts Now (June 17, 2020), (stating that there is a pattern of over-policing in predominantly Black neighborhoods with regards to surveillance and social control).

[32] U.S. Const. amend. X.

[33] Shriver Center, Reducing the Cost of Crime Free: Alternative Strategies to Crime Free Nuisance Property Ordinances in Illinois, E. Bay Cmty. Law Ctr. (Oct. 2015),

[34] Id.

[35] Crime-free housing lease provision: prohibition against criminal activity on premises, Oak Park, (on file with author).

[36] Memorandum from Tammie Grossman, Director of Development Customer Services, to Kevin J. Jackson, Village Manager (Apr. 26, 2022) (on file with author).

[37] Id.

[38] Id.

[39] Archer, supra note 2.