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On August 10, 2017, Relman Colfax filed a federal housing discrimination lawsuit against the City of Peoria, Illinois, alleging that the City's enforcement of its "chronic nuisance ordinance" violates the Fair Housing Act, on the basis of race and sex. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois on behalf of HOPE Fair Housing Center, alleged that Peoria intentionally targeted enforcement in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and against buildings with predominantly African-American tenants. As a result, African-American residents regularly face eviction for conduct that does not result in eviction for white residents. The lawsuit also alleged that the ordinance was selectively enforced against women experiencing domestic violence.

Under the chronic nuisance ordinance, Peoria required landlords to evict tenants at certain homes that the City deems to be "chronic nuisances," simply because the properties have been the subject of multiple police contacts. After an extensive investigation, HOPE found that Peoria does not enforce the ordinance equally at all homes that could be eligible for enforcement under the ordinance's broad terms. Rather, HOPE found, Peoria selectively enforces its ordinance against buildings that are located in predominantly African-American communities or have primarily African-American tenants. HOPE's investigation also found that crime victims—including survivors of domestic violence, most of whom are women—were regularly targeted for eviction under the ordinance, effectively punishing them for seeking help from the police. 

On May 14, 2018, U.S. District Judge Sara Darrow denied the City's motion to dismiss.

On August 31, 2020, HOPE settled its claims. Pursuant to the settlement, the City will amend the ordinance and police department policies to ensure nondiscriminatory enforcement of the Ordinance and to protect tenant rights. The revised ordinance clarifies the manner in which it can be enforced, provides due process protections for those tenants affected by enforcement, provides anti-retaliation provisions for tenants, and protects tenants who report landlords who have failed to live up to their responsibilities. HOPE will undertake a program of community education and counseling for tenants to ensure they understand their rights under the revised. The City will also dedicate additional resources to its Re-Housing Fund to help tenants displaced from buildings deemed unfit for habitation.

The Relman Colfax litigation team is assisted by the Shriver Center on Poverty Law as co-counsel.  

Case Caption

HOPE Fair Housing Center v. City of Peoria, No. 1:17-cv-1360 (C.D. Ill.)

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