Lawmakers push to close “loophole” after New Hope used city ordinance to shut down state-licensed group homes

Lawmakers push to close “loophole” after New Hope used city ordinance to shut down state-licensed group homes

Lawmakers push to close “loophole” after New Hope used city ordinance to shut down state-licensed group homes

Lawmakers are aiming to close a loophole in state law that they said allowed a suburban city to shut down state-licensed group homes, effectively evicting individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses and other disabilities.

The City of New Hope revoked the rental licenses of two group homes last year for “disorderly behavior” violations even though the care facilities were regulated by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

The tactic — first exposed by 5 INVESTIGATES — drew outrage from lawmakers, mental health advocates and experts on housing and disability laws.

The city defended its enforcement of the rental ordinance, which recently survived a legal challenge.

But Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin) said the city exploited a “loophole” that could create a slippery slope for people with disabilities. 

Hoffman will hold a hearing on a bill this summer that he said would require cities to follow clear guidelines before taking any action against a state-licensed care facility.

Under the legislation, a city would first need to notify state agencies that license and regulate the facility. The bill specifies that the city must also alert “interested parties” who are responsible for the care of the individuals who would be affected by the closure.

“What we’re trying to do here is protecting the rights of an individual with a disability to live and be in the community,” Hoffman said in a recent interview.

Non-violent violations

City leaders argued they needed to revoke the rental licenses from the two care facilities to protect the safety of the residents and the surrounding community.

They pointed to neighbor complaints and the number of times police were called to those locations.

A 5 INVESTIGATES review of police and city records revealed the violations involved a resident making unwelcome comments to a neighbor, a disturbance between two residents and a drug overdose death.

Legal experts questioned why the city took such drastic steps over non-violent incidents.

“If there was, like, gunfire and violent activities… I get that,” Lawrence McDonough, a nationally-recognized housing attorney, told 5 INVESTIGATES last year.

McDonough also suggested that it could qualify as housing discrimination because of comments made by a city council member before the group homes were shut down.

‘Not everyone can live next door.

In October, Council Member Jonathon London said the state should go back to putting people with disabilities in non-residential settings such as hospitals because “not everyone can live next door.”

Those comments became the centerpiece of a discrimination lawsuit, filed by the group home provider against the city of New Hope earlier this year.

The lawsuit also argued the city overstepped its authority and “took conscious efforts to interfere with State-licensed and State-regulated activities.” 

Last month, a Hennepin County judge dismissed the case, saying the provider didn’t prove that “the City’s actions were motivated by discrimination.” 

In a statement, the city said the judge’s decision “supports the conclusion that the city followed the law when acting to meet the needs of its residents.

Hoffman said that is why the law now needs to change.

“At the end of the day, what we’re doing for people on behalf of people with disabilities, on behalf of our community, should really be what drives this conversation,” Hoffman said.