Group homes, shut down by the City of New Hope, file discrimination lawsuit

Group homes, shut down by the City of New Hope, file discrimination lawsuit

Months after city leaders voted to shut down two group homes in New Hope, officials there are now being accused of violating state law.

A civil lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court, alleges the city discriminated against people with diagnosed mental health disorders and other disabilities when it revoked the rental licenses of the group homes where they lived.

“These people are going to be homeless,” said Matt Kezhaya, the attorney representing the group homes. “It’s a lot of harm that happens from these decisions.”

The city’s decision, first reported by 5 INVESTIGATES in December, has drawn public outcry from disability rights and mental health advocates. It’s also been referred to as a “loophole” by state lawmakers, who question the city’s authority.

The homes are licensed and regulated by the state’s health department as assisted living facilities. But police began citing residents for “disorderly behavior” earlier this year after responding to incidents including a drug overdose death, a disturbance at the home where a resident threw a cup at a window, and a situation where police were called after a resident made unwelcome comments to a neighbor.

“We shouldn’t be getting shut down because clients, mental health people, are having behavior,” said Sheikh Dukuly, who operates the facilities with his brother.

In addition to the lawsuit, they are also seeking an emergency injunction that would allow their clients currently living at the Boone Ave property to remain in the home as the lawsuit proceeds.

The lawsuit argues the city violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which prohibits disability discrimination in housing.

“It’s the targeting and exiling of people because of characteristics that people don’t like,” Kezhaya said. “The intent was to get these people out of the city limits, and they executed on it.”

But in addition to the decision to revoke the rental licenses, the lawsuit outlines public comments from a city council member, who said he believed there were “too many” group homes in New Hope and openly questioned whether those facilities should be allowed to operate in their community.

“That’s disability discrimination,” Kezhaya said.

The city has not yet responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

But during Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Kathi Hemken read a lengthy memo addressing the controversy.

“The City of New Hope recognizes the importance the more than 60 group homes within our city have in providing safe and accessible housing for individuals with disabilities,” it began. “We stand firmly against discrimination of any kind and recognize the value of all community members.”

Hemken went on to defend the city’s actions, saying the decision to revoke the rental licenses was “in the best interest of safety for both the tenants and the neighboring property owners.”

Kezhaya argues that in making that decision, the city overstepped its authority.

“The state regulates these assisted living facilities, they license these assisted living facilities,” he said. “While [the city] might have an ordinance that says, you know, we can do whatever we want, that ordinance is not going to survive judicial scrutiny.”