ACLU Sues Faribault over Rental Housing Ordinance Claiming it's Discriminatory

June 13, 2018 07:14 PM

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the City of Faribault over what it calls an unconstitutional rental housing ordinance that discriminates against people of color.

The organization filed the lawsuit Wednesday morning in federal court.

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The suit alleges that the city’s rental licensing ordinance was enacted with the intent to push minority families out of downtown Faribault.

Under the ordinance, landlords are required to evict tenants if police are called to a property as few as three times and identify a “disorderly conduct” violation.

The ordinance also requires landlords to do background checks on all tenants before they hand over the keys.

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“I just think it's unfair,” said Thelma Jones who rented a home in Faribault for her family of five until last year when the city forced the landlord to evict them.

“I don’t have a criminal background. My daughter doesn’t have a criminal background," Jones said. "It’s not fair."

In this case, since police paid multiple visits for what the ACLU described as petty issues, such as noise complaints, the family racked up disorderly conduct violations.

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The city ordinance says three strikes, and you’re out.

“If the police have certified that a qualifying offense has occurred on the property – that's enough. It doesn’t have to lead to an arrest much less a conviction,” said Teresa Nelson, ACLU attorney.

Nelson calls the ordinance unconstitutional and one of the worst in the country.

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It’s why the organization is suing the city over policies it feels discriminates against the city’s growing minority population.

“The guidance from HUD is just that. The people of color are more likely to have a criminal conviction and so having housing policies that deny housing for someone with a criminal conviction is racial discrimination,” Nelson said.

Faribault city attorneys see it differently.

In a four-page letter sent to the ACLU earlier this week, the city called the claims “unsubstantiated” and stated it will “not pursue a repeal of the ordinance” as requested by the organization.

Robert Alsop, City Attorney, writes that the ordinance “was adopted as a legitimate police power of the city” to regulate housing standards.

He adds that nowhere does it say landlords cannot rent to people with a record.

The letter also states that the ACLU failed to provide any evidence in the suit that shows minority families are disproportionately impacted by the city’s ordinance.

Meanwhile, the ACLU says it looks forward to responding in court where “we believe our claims will prevail.”

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