North Minneapolis residents sue city over discrimination in housing code violations, enforcement

A group of 10 North Minneapolis tenants filed a lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis in Hennepin County District Court on Tuesday alleging that the city is discriminating against residents with unfair housing code enforcement.

The lawsuit alleges that the city is in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) by failing to equitably address housing code violations in North Minneapolis, where over 70% of tenants are people of color.

Represented by the law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP, the plaintiffs, including former Minneapolis City Councilmember Donald Samuels, are asking for a court order requiring the City of Minneapolis to enforce the Minneapolis Housing Code, a declaratory judgment that the city is failing to enforce its housing code and has violated the MHRA, along with reimbursement of costs and attorney’s fees.

The city has a duty to enforce the Minneapolis Housing Code under the MHRA, yet the lawsuit says the main, or perhaps sole, action the city has taken in North Minneapolis is to create a 311 reporting line that community members can text or call with housing code violations and other problems in their neighborhoods.

The plaintiffs say they have contacted officials via 311 “numerous” times and received little-to-no response.

In North Minneapolis’ Wards 4 and 5, respectively 28% and 55% of the occupied housing units are rentals, and 77% and 70% of those renters are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. These units house only 16% of the city’s residents but account for 45% of housing complaints at Tier 2 and Tier 3 properties, the lawsuit states.

Tier 2 and Tier 3 properties are homes that have received multiple documented complaints regarding renter safety and habitability.

Including Ward 9, which holds the Phillips and Powderhorn neighborhoods, with the Ward 4 and 5 figures, 23% of Minneapolis residents account for 60% of housing complaints.

The lawsuit shows that by respective comparison, 22%, 26%, and 30% of housing units in Wards 11, 12, and 13 in south Minneapolis are rentals, and 35%, 29%, and 16% of those renters are Black, Indigenous, or people of color, the lawsuit states. It also shows 25% of Minneapolis’ total population lives in these wards, yet the area only sees 5% of housing complaints in the city.

The lawsuit goes on to say that these figures mean renters in North Minneapolis have experienced nine times the number of alleged housing violations than other wards and that the organization of Minneapolis housing inspectors does not reflect the need for inspection demands reflected in the complaint.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has reached out to the City of Minneapolis for a statement and will update accordingly.

In the lawsuit, one of the plaintiffs says he lives near a “crack house” in which the landlord allegedly ran an “off-the-books” property exchanging housing for free drugs and sexual favors. The plaintiff, whose identity is not stated in the lawsuit for fear of his safety, has submitted several 311 reports regarding littered needles, bullet casings, shootings, and stripped and abandoned cars outside the property.

The plaintiff said he later called the city to check on the status of the reports and was told they were closed despite the violations he originally reported persisting. The house was eventually foreclosed on and boarded up, the lawsuit added, saying “After three years of terrorizing the neighborhood, it was not the City that stopped the chaos but a bank.”

Another plaintiff who works as a mail carrier in Minneapolis cited a particular rental unit in which he continuously noted a lack of doorknobs and handrails on stairs, garbage piling up in the hallways, vacant units filled with garbage, crumbling stairs, porch lights dangling by wires, and more. While working and living in North Minneapolis, the plaintiff was literally shocked by an exposed wire that fell in a puddle and observed bullet holes and shoddy flooring, according to the lawsuit.

A third plaintiff says he has made hundreds of reports about housing violations in the Jordan neighborhood to the city’s 311 system and received no response or a notification that the report was “closed” with no action being taken.

The lawsuit added that the City’s “inequitable policies” are continuing to affect the area as housing code violations pile up and the neighborhood’s value decreases.

The full lawsuit can be read below.