The Justice Department announced today 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.
Following a comprehensive investigation, the department found that through the city’s “crime-free” housing program, the city discouraged and prevented tenants with mental health disabilities and those associated with them from using its emergency response service. The department found that people with mental health disabilities and their families or service providers refrained from calling for help to avoid risking their current housing or future housing prospects.
“Using a so-called ‘crime-free’ housing ordinance to invoke fear and prevent people with mental health disabilities from exercising their right to access housing and seek emergency assistance is discriminatory and runs afoul of our nation’s civil rights laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This scheme is cloaked as a public safety measure but in reality it callously targets people with disabilities and their loved ones by penalizing them simply for reaching out for emergency assistance in times of need. The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that every person, including those with disabilities, can access emergency services and enjoy access to fair housing without fear of retaliation.”
Under the city’s rental licensing and so-called “crime free” housing ordinance, the city can penalize landlords for “nuisance calls” to their properties. Nuisance calls include disorderly conduct and what the city describes as repeated “unfounded” calls to the police. The city can issue fines and revoke the landlord’s license if the landlord does not pursue eviction after nuisance calls to their property. When tenants with mental health disabilities and those associated with them (like their families or landlords) requested or received emergency assistance, they risked eviction, fines or loss of a rental license.
For years, the city also sent weekly reports to licensed landlords detailing all calls for emergency service from all rental properties. Along with a general description, each report included the name and address of those involved and often revealed personal and sensitive information about the person’s mental health disabilities, such as their diagnoses, medications and names of psychiatric or medical providers. Some even shared intimate details about suicide attempts. The city used these reports to notify landlords of potential nuisance calls and encourage landlords to evict tenants.
The department provided its findings and minimum remedial measures necessary in a letter to the city. Specifically, the department asks the city to change its policies and procedures, designate an ADA coordinator, and train staff.
The Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota investigated the case.
People with information about these findings are encouraged to contact the department via email at Anoka@usdoj.gov or by calling a toll-free number at 888-473-3940. For more information on the ADA, please visit ADA.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TTY 833-610-1264).