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Wilkes-Barre Ends "One-Strike" Evictions

Under Wilkes-Barre's ordinance, tenants with no knowledge of an offense could be immediately evicted. (Daniel/Flickr)
Under Wilkes-Barre's ordinance, tenants with no knowledge of an offense could be immediately evicted. (Daniel/Flickr)
August 17, 2016

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - The City of Wilkes-Barre has agreed to stop enforcing its "one strike, you're out" ordinance. The local law allows the city to evict tenants from their homes, and keep the premises from being rented again for six months, if anyone is arrested there for crimes involving drugs or guns.

That includes people who aren't on the lease and don't live there. And according to Sara Rose, staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, there was no way to challenge the action before the evictions took place.

"This deprived landlords of rental income, and also deprived tenants of their homes, without any sort of due process prior to the closure," she said.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania sued the city on behalf of two renters and three landlords. Wilkes-Barre has agreed to pay $225,000 in damages and attorneys' fees, as well as halting enforcement of the ordinance.

Rose said one of the plaintiffs in the case was the single mother of a two-year-old child.

"The father of her child had asked if he could just come by for a little while, while she was at work; and then while he was there, the police executed a warrant for his arrest," she said.

The mother was later arrested for trespassing when she returned to her home to collect belongings.

Under the Wilkes-Barre ordinance, tenants could be evicted even when they had no knowledge of the offense that led to the eviction. Rose added a number or cities and towns in Pennsylvania have local laws that allow them to penalize landlords for the actions of their tenants.

"We are hopeful that other municipalities will see the example of Wilkes-Barre and choose not to adopt or enforce these kinds of ordinances," she added.

A similar ordinance was rescinded in Williamsport after a landlord sued that city.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA