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Press Release

Justice Department Secures Landmark Agreement with City of Anoka, Minnesota, to End Disability Discrimination in “Crime-Free” Housing Program

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department announced today that it filed a complaint and proposed consent decree to resolve allegations that the city of Anoka, Minnesota, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act by denying tenants with mental health disabilities an equal opportunity to receive emergency assistance.

Under Anoka’s rental licensing and “crime free” housing ordinance, the city can penalize landlords for “nuisance calls” to their properties. Nuisance calls include disorderly conduct and “unfounded” calls to the police. The department previously found that because of the nuisance ordinance, when tenants with mental health disabilities and those associated with them (like their families or landlords) request or receive emergency assistance, they risk eviction, fines or loss of a rental license.

“So-called ‘crime-free’ ordinances are often fueled by discriminatory objectives, and have the effect of destabilizing communities and promoting fear intended to drive people from their homes,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Anoka’s so-called ‘crime-free’ housing program does not protect public safety but rather risks lives by discouraging people with disabilities and their loved ones from calling for help when needed most. No person should feel discouraged from seeking help during a mental health crisis. The Justice Department is committed to contesting discriminatory ‘crime free’ ordinances and programs that block, discourage or penalize people for simply accessing emergency services.”

For years, the city also sent weekly reports to landlords detailing calls for emergency service from all rental properties. These reports often revealed personal and sensitive information about residents’ mental health disabilities, such as their diagnoses, medications or even suicide attempts. The city used these reports to notify landlords of potential nuisance calls and encourage landlords to evict tenants.

The proposed consent decree resolves the department’s allegations that the city, through its “crime-free” housing program, discouraged and prevented tenants with mental health disabilities and those associated with them from seeking emergency assistance, including during medical or mental health crises.

Under the proposed consent decree, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, the city has agreed to pay a total of $175,000 to compensate individuals harmed by the program; end its practice of publicizing the disability, medical and health information of individuals with mental health disabilities; adopt non-discrimination policies and complaint procedures; notify landlords, property owners and tenants of changes to the program; designate an ADA coordinator; train staff and provide reports to the department during a monitoring period.

Individuals who believe they were harmed by the city’s “crime-free” housing program may be entitled to compensation under the settlement fund and should contact the Justice Department at Anoka@usdoj.gov or by calling the toll-free number 888-473-3940.

In late 2022, the department also settled a lawsuit against the City of Hesperia, California, and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department alleging that their implementation of a “crime-free” program and ordinance discriminated on the basis of race and national origin in violation of the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Black renters were almost four times more likely, and Hispanic renters 29% more likely, to be evicted under Hesperia’s program than white renters.

For more information on the Civil Rights Division and the civil rights laws it enforces, please visit www.justice.gov/crt. Individuals may submit a report of discrimination online, call 833-591-0291 to report housing discrimination or call 800-514-0301 (TTY 1-833-610-1264) to report disability discrimination and to reach the department’s ADA Information Line.

Updated May 21, 2024

Topics
Civil Rights
Fair Housing
Press Release Number: 24-639