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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes legislation prohibiting mandatory eviction ordinances

May 17, 2023

DOVER — The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to prevent municipalities from requiring that landlords evict tenants based on their involvement in the justice system. 

Sponsored by Sen. Marie Pinkney and Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, Senate Bill 99 prohibits municipalities from the following: 

  • Requiring a “crime-free” lease agreement as a condition of tenancy 
  • Mandating eviction after a tenant — or another resident or guest — is arrested, convicted or even merely accused of certain crimes

There are currently six municipalities in Delaware with “crime-free” or nuisance ordinances on their books that can result in mandatory evictions: Townsend, Smyrna, Dover, Harrington, Greenwood, and Blades.

Despite the intent to keep communities safe from criminal activity, “crime-free” municipal ordinances have a number of unintended consequences. The definition of criminal activity within the language of these ordinances is often vague and open to interpretation. Moreover, the standard for what is considered criminal activity does not require an arrest or conviction, and instead, can consist of merely an allegation or contact with the police. Survivors of domestic violence, for example, may hesitate to report abuse or call 911 for fear of being evicted if law enforcement is called out to their residence. 

“Everyone wants to live in a safe community, but we must recognize that housing security is integral to one’s personal safety and wellbeing. ” said Sen. Pinkney, LCSW. “Nuisance ordinances bypass due process, our right to counsel, our right to fair trial and a number of other Constitutional protections central to the American justice system. The plain and simple fact is no Delawarean ever should be rendered homeless simply because a government body has deemed them undesirable.“ 

SB 99 preserves the discretion of landlords to evict tenants for material lease violations. However, the legislation prevents municipalities from making those evictions mandatory. 

SB 99 was formally recommended by the African American Task Force, which noted that “crime-free” lease ordinances can result in evictions based entirely on racially motivated complaints from neighbors.

“We need SB99, especially at a time when housing insecurity is impacting so many, this legislation will protect families and safeguard residents from unjust evictions,” Rep. Wilson-Anton said.

Senate Bill 99 now heads to the House for consideration.