DOJ: City of Anoka used ‘crime-free’ ordinance to discriminate against people with mental health disabilities 

DOJ: City of Anoka used ‘crime-free’ ordinance to discriminate against people with mental health disabilities

DOJ: City of Anoka used ‘crime-free’ ordinance to discriminate against people with mental health disabilities

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has found the city of Anoka discriminated against people with disabilities using its “crime-free” housing ordinance. 

The findings, detailed in a letter sent earlier this week to the city attorney, allege the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act when it denied renters with mental health disabilities access to emergency services and disclosed detailed, personal information on individuals with mental health issues.

Anoka City Attorney Scott Baumgartner declined to comment on the findings on Thursday. In an email, he said he was scheduling a meeting for the City Council to review the letter.

The federal investigation found that the city “discouraged and prevented” renters with mental health disabilities from calling for help, and that tenants refrained from calling for emergency and medical services out of fear they would lose their housing.

The department received multiple complaints from individuals with mental health disabilities who experienced this treatment, along with landlords who told investigators they felt pressured to evict renters.

Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI-MN, called the findings “appalling.”

“It doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” she said of the city’s policy.

Under Anoka’s rental licensing and crime-free housing ordinance, tenants who have three “nuisance police calls for service” within a year risk being evicted by their landlord. The landlords also risked losing their rental license if they didn’t take action against their tenants.

For nearly six years, the city sent weekly reports to landlords detailing those calls for service to rental properties. The DOJ found that in at least 780 of those cases, the reports revealed confidential medical information like diagnoses and medications. The reports even shared details of individuals’ suicide attempts.

In one case, according to the findings, a woman who ran several assisted living facilities that serve people with disabilities reported that the city pressured her to “evict one her residents with schizophrenia and other mental health disabilities” because the tenant often called police when she was experiencing delusions.

The provider refused to evict the tenant, but advised her staff to refrain from calling for emergency services.

The city also disproportionately used the ordinance, according to the feds. Investigators found instances where the city did not penalize individuals who repeatedly called police, but who did not exhibit or disclose mental health issues. 

“It really is incredibly discriminatory,” Abderholden said. “We aren’t trying to push people out who are having heart attacks in their apartments, so why would we be doing this for people experiencing a mental health crisis?”

Scrutiny over the use of crime-free housing ordinances in Minnesota has been growing for years.

In 2018, 5 INVESTIGATES found police in St. Louis Park were ordering landlords to evict people from their homes for reported criminal activity even though they were never convicted or charged with a crime.

The investigation led to public outcry and the eventual repeal of the city’s “crime-free, drug-free” ordinance. 

Earlier this year, the city of New Hope faced a legal challenge over its crime-free housing ordinance after 5 INVESTIGATES found leaders revoked the rental licenses of two group homes that served people with mental health issues and other disabilities. “People with mental illnesses face so much discrimination in their lives,” Abderholden said. “To think this is continuing in 2023, when we have greater awareness and understanding of mental illnesses… it really is appalling that cities would do this against people.”

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Eric Hauge, executive director of tenant advocacy organization HOME Line, said it’s significant to have the federal government find that Anoka’s use of the crime-free ordinance is discriminatory.

Hauge said they often hear from tenants who live in other cities who experience similar treatment.

“It doesn’t always necessarily matter what is on the books, but it’s about sometimes the informal processes and the way the cities enforce these things,” Hauge said.

Abderholden, who expects a push toward more tenant protections during the upcoming legislative session, said the findings are significant.

“I hope it puts other cities on notice that you can’t do these kinds of things,” she said in an interview. “Doing things like this is going to get you in trouble with the Department of Justice.”

5 INVESTIGATES wants to hear from tenants, landlords, housing attorneys and advocates about their experiences with crime-free housing ordinances in Minnesota. You can reach reporter Kirsten Swanson at 651-642-4406 or email her at