ACLU sues Faribault over rental ordinance, accuses city of discrimination

In a more than 100-page federal court filing, the American Civil Liberties Union is taking aim at the city of Faribault’s rental measures and accusing the city of discrimination.

“We believe that we have a very strong record in this case,” said Teresa Nelson of the ACLU.

The ACLU charges that the licensing ordinance and Crime Free Housing program implemented by the city of Faribault in 2014 unfairly targets black and Somali tenants living downtown. According to the ACLU, in the ordinance’s first year, more than 50 people were directly impacted. The ACLU is asking the court to declare the ordinance unconstitutional and in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“If a city is legitimately concerned about safety and crime, making people homeless, turning them out of their homes is not the way to do it,” said Nelson.

The lawsuit alleges that if police are called to a home at least three times, landlords are required to evict tenants even if there were no arrests.

“It’s been very stressful and not a good experience,” said Thelma Jones, a Faribault resident.

Jones told Fox 9 that she and five other family members were forced out of their home last year after accumulating a number of disorderly conduct violations.

“If the kids outside were on the trampoline, the police would be called, like for no reason at all,” said Jones.

The suit also alleges that the city instructs landlords to refuse rent to those with criminal records and limits the occupancy of each rental. 

“Census records show that Somali families tend to be larger and our clients have found themselves being evicted because they bring home a baby,” said Nelson.

The city of Faribault fired back with a letter Monday to the ACLU, which reads in part: “The express purpose of the ordinance is to assure that rental housing in the city of Faribault is decent, safe, and sanitary…contrary to your contention, the ordinance was not adopted to limit loitering in the downtown area by black or Somali residents.” 

So far, Jones is one of six plaintiffs, a number that the ACLU says could grow. 

“My family has been broken up and had to go their separate ways, like now that I’m in this two bedroom apartment, I’m on pins and needles because I don’t want the same thing to happen,” said Jones.