For public health, concerns about nuisance property ordinances are important, both because of the general importance of stable housing to personal and family health and because of the particularly severe consequences of eviction. Although other laws may protect the housing rights of domestic violence survivors, the fact that the main housing laws so rarely protect victims of domestic violence is concerning, purely on the level of legal doctrine and public policy.
In this article, the authors identify the need for greater legal epidemiology and evaluation of eviction laws. Because this problem has been studied in only a few cities, we do not know whether the risks created or ignored by the laws actually contribute to harm in real life. Failure to evaluate the actual effects of laws in a rigorous and timely manner leaves citizens exposed to interventions that fail to provide the protection they promise and may even do harm. The nuisance property ordinance story is a case study in why greater investment in, and attention to, the scientific evaluation of laws as it affects public health (what we call “legal epidemiology”) is so important to good health and good governance in the United States.