New push in Lakewood to help victims of domestic abuse

LAKEWOOD, Ohio--  Across Ohio, some domestic violence victims are forced to choose between a roof over their head or calling police for help.

It's just one example of what some advocates describe as archaic nuisance laws across the state and the reason why one Lakewood city councilman is working to fix the issue. Under the city's current law, domestic violence is defined as a nuisance activity.

"It is the worst, one of the worst situations you can find yourself in. You are afraid enough to call the police in many of these circumstances and seek protection," said Lakewood City Councilman Dan O'Malley. "You shouldn't have one more barrier where you're worried that your landlord might declare you a nuisance."

O'Malley introduced the ordinance Monday with the aim of making sure victims of domestic violence are never deterred in seeking protection and justice when in danger. The councilman says the city does not currently enforce nuisance laws relating to domestic violence calls. The change comes months after a comprehensive report was authored by Cleveland State University students and faculty.

"Because of our research on nuisance laws with some community partners like the ACLU of Ohio, about seven cities in Cuyahoga County have changed their laws to remove domestic violence," said Marissa Pappas, a CSU graduate student who helped write the report.

Since the report was written last November, Pappas says Lakewood could soon be the eighth city to change their nuisance code. According to the report, nearly 50 Ohio cities have Criminal Activity Nuisance Ordinances (CANOs), that includes more than 20 in Northeast Ohio. Pappas says preliminary data shows many are concentrated in Cuyahoga County.

CANOs can put survivors of domestic violence at a heightened risk of eviction. The report states in some cities more than half of CANO letters are sent in response to domestic violence incidents. Pappas describes how the law can hurt abuse survivors regardless of if they rent or own their home.

"In one case we had a property owner -- she's a survivor of domestic violence-- her boyfriend would come over to her house; that's where the disturbance or attack would happen, and she would receive the nuisance notices saying, 'If you don't clean up your act you're going to face consequences if domestic violence is reported from this household again,'" explained Pappas.

Domestic violence advocates say it's a problem they are all too familiar with and recognize the barriers these laws create for victims trying to escape danger.

"I've worked with victims who have told me, 'My landlord has said, you know, there's too many 911 calls; there's too many domestic violence incidents. They're going to ask me to move,'" said Victoria Grant with the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland.

Grant tells FOX 8, Euclid changed their nuisance laws in 2017 and eliminated domestic violence as a part of the definition.

"I'm so grateful as a victim advocate municipalities are starting to take a look at this, and see that, you know, we need to revisit this law so that we can eliminate those barriers for victims," said Grant. "...As an advocate in Euclid, I've noticed victims feel more free to come forward and call 911."

According to O'Malley, the Lakewood ordinance he introduced could become law in just a matter of months if passed.