The city of Faribault has agreed to amend a controversial crime-free housing ordinance.
The City Council voted Tuesday night to amend its housing program as part of a settlement to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2018.
It also agreed to pay $685,000 to several former tenants who claimed the city’s crime-free ordinance discriminated against black and Somali tenants.
“This settlement sends a clear message that the discriminatory behavior that has stripped immigrants and black people from their homes and driven them out of town will no longer be tolerated here or across the country,” said Teresa Nelson, legal director of ACLU Minnesota. “No one should lose their home because of race or appearance.”
Scrutiny of so-called crime-free ordinances began to increase a few years ago after 5 INVESTIGATIONS found they were being used by police to evict people from their homes even if they were never charged with a crime.
Thelma Jones, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against Faribault, said police ordered her landlord in 2016 to evict her family for violating the Criminal Housing Ordinance for “ongoing criminal activity.”
As 5 INVESTIGATES reported last fall, court records showed that Jones had only ever been convicted of a minor offense.
“The City of Faribault forced me, my children, and my grandchildren out of our home,” Jones said in an ACLU press release. “I hope that this settlement will prevent other black families from being discriminated against.”
The settlement “validates” the city ordinance
In a statement, an attorney for the city of Faribault said the settlement “preserves and affirms the ordinance whose purpose is to provide decent, safe, sanitary and crime-free housing for all residents of the city, regardless of race or nationality.”
However, the city acknowledged that the crime-free housing section of the ordinance would be changed.
The ACLU argued that the policy allowed police to evict entire families for any act deemed “messy”.
“The vagueness and breadth of what ‘disorderly conduct’ could constitute was staggering,” an ACLU spokesman wrote in the press release. “Now the list of what is considered disorderly conduct that could result in an eviction is shorter…and specifies that the conduct must take place on the rental property.”
According to the ACLU, police can only order an eviction for certain crimes, such as arson or burglary, and the crimes must have been committed at the rental property.
Police can also no longer evict everyone in a household because they believe a particular family member is a suspect in a crime.
eviction before sentencing
In recent years, cities across Minnesota have begun reversing or repealing their crime-free ordinances in response to a 2018 5 INVESTIGATES report.
That report, Eviction Before Conviction, revealed that St. Louis Park police ordered the eviction of more than 150 tenants who had never been convicted or even charged with a crime.
St. Louis Park later became one of the first cities in the country to completely repeal its ordinance.
Alejandro Ortiz, one of the ACLU’s lead attorneys in the Faribault case, said the settlement in Faribault gives other cities a model to follow.
“Other cities across the country should get rid of these unwarranted crime-free housing laws and programs and instead focus on promoting housing opportunities and relationships with communities of color,” Ortiz said.