Conflict Preemption: A Remedy for the Disparate Impact of Crime-Free Nuisance Ordinances

Thousands of municipalities across the country have adopted crime-free nuisance ordinances—laws that sanction landlords for their tenants’ behaviors, coercing them to evict tenants for actions as innocuous as calling 9-1-1 in an emergency. These facially neutral ordinances give wide discretion to municipal officials, leading to discriminatory enforcement of evictions. As a result, these ordinances have a devastating impact on victims of domestic violence and are used as a tool to inhibit integration in majority-white municipalities. Many plaintiffs have brought lawsuits alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution and the Fair Housing Act. However, bringing lawsuits under various anti-discrimination protections presents many challenges. Less than five percent of all discrimination plaintiffs will achieve relief, and eighty-six percent of discrimination claims end in dismissals. Professor Katie Eyer, an anti-discrimination legal scholar, has advocated for increasing the use of “extra-discrimination remedies,” litigation-based approaches that are not rooted in anti-discrimination laws. This Note explores one potential extra-discrimination remedy that could be used to challenge crime-free nuisance ordinances: conflict preemption. Crime-free nuisance ordinances that are not tailored to state landlord-tenant laws’ grounds for eviction may be in conflict with, and preempted by, state law. This Note also recommends that fair housing advocates collaborate with landlord associations when challenging crime-free nuisance ordinances. Although the interests of landlords and tenants often conflict, both groups are harmed by municipalities that enact crime-free nuisance ordinances.