There is much more to this story, however. The "criminal activity" that spawned the eviction was in fact a domestic violence incident in which Cleaves-Milan's armed husband threatened to kill her. She sought and obtained an order of protection against him, but this action was unexpectedly turned against her when Aimco used it as a basis for her eviction -- even going so far as to include a copy of the protection order "stapled to the eviction notice that terminated her lease." The concern about her inability to pay rent also stemmed from this incident. The company questioned whether Cleaves-Milan had sufficient income without the assistance of her husband, a capacity she asserts she could easily prove. The article goes on to note that, unlike in other states that have legislation protecting victims of domestic abuse, such deplorable business practice is permissible in Illinois until a new amendment to the Human Rights Act takes effect in 2010. With help from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and Reed Smith, Cleaves-Milan has filed suit over the eviction claiming sex discrimination.
It is not difficult to see why the actions by Aimco are cause for alarm. The intent of the policy -- to keep residents safe by quickly weeding out problem tenants -- is not itself problematic; rather, it is the inexplicable application of the policy in this case that raises serious issues. Cleaves-Milan herself committed no violation and the situation was completely beyond her control. Moreover, the order of protection had already obviated the need to enforce the policy as the offending party could not return to the premises.
Yet perhaps the most disconcerting element of this case is the perverse message that the company's actions send to victims of crimes. First, by indiscriminately evicting tenants without regard to whether they were the victim or the perpetrator, the company eliminates the tenants' incentive to notify the authorities when they are in danger or when a crime has been committed. As Sandra Park of the ACLU Women's Rights Project noted, "It forces women into a situation where they have to choose between reaching out for safety or staying in their homes."
This policy also severely limits the resources available to victims of domestic violence at precisely the point when they need the most assistance. Victims of crimes need access to proper legal channels, support to enable them to seek help, and often therapy and other services to help them to recover from the trauma of the experience. These resources are especially important in cases of domestic violence, where the offender is usually a person the victim had known and trusted. The policy enforced by Aimco achieves the opposite result; it severely limits the options available to victims and may force them to make decisions that are not in their best interest but which are unavoidable under the circumstances. That danger is especially apparent in this case, as Cleaves-Milan and her daughter were forced to take "temporary refuge" at her husband's former home after their eviction.
Finally, in what can only be described as despicable, Aimco sent Cleaves-Milan a bill for $3,800 that it claimed she owed due to the "early termination of her lease." When the Chicago Tribune inquired about this fee, the company decided to drop it. How kind.