DOJ finds city of Anoka violated federal housing, disability law

By: - November 9, 2023 2:59 pm

Photo courtesy of the United States Department of Justice.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that the city of Anoka was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act for discriminating against people with mental illness. 

The DOJ found that Anoka’s “crime-free” multi-housing program discouraged tenants struggling with mental illness or other disabilities from reaching out to the authorities in times of duress, for fear of eviction or other retaliation. 

Anoka penalized tenants — and deputized landlords to do so — for “nuisance” calls to emergency services, the DOJ said. The city was uneven in how it enforced the prohibition against nuisance calls, however — to the detriment of people suffering from mental illness.  

The city filed a nuisance complaint against a tenant who called the police three times with “delusions” that his phone had been hacked, for instance.

During the last two months of 2018, however, police responded to 14 calls from an elderly resident of the housing program, who had either called in error or called with requests for help finding their glasses or making it to the bathroom. None of these calls were marked as nuisance calls. 

The DOJ’s report revealed that the city can issue fines and revoke the landlord’s license if the landlord does not pursue eviction after three nuisance calls to their property, for “failure to actively pursue the eviction of occupants who have violated the provisions of the crime free lease addendum.” 

One Anoka landlord told the DOJ that she felt she was encouraged to either evict “nuisance” tenants or lose her rental license. The DOJ also found evidence that personal medical and mental health information was shared with landlords, information that is normally confidential in a tenant screening process, in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act

While it is unknown exactly how many Anoka residents have been evicted for nuisance calls, the DOJ said that “multiple tenants” came forward reporting their eviction for requesting emergency services for their mental health disabilities. 

This news is especially harrowing in the midst of a national mental health crisis, said Sue Aberholden, executive director of NAMI MN, a mental health advocacy organization, in an interview with the Reformer

The news, she said, “ruined her day.”  

“They targeted people with mental illnesses who called 911 during a mental health crisis. They took that information, including people’s personal medical information, their diagnoses, their prescriptions, and any other information they had, and went to the landlord to encourage them to evict these individuals. That to me is appalling,” Aberholden said.

Studies show that one in four people with mental disorders have a history of police arrest. 

Aberholden advocated for the use of Travis’s law, which requires appropriate response teams to be dispatched instead of police units. 

“It’s just that you want the appropriate response, right? When you call 911, if it’s a fire, you want the fire department to come, right? If you’re having a heart attack, you want the EMTs to come. If someone’s breaking into your house, you want the police to come. If you’re having a mental health crisis, you want the mental health crisis team to come,” Aberholden said. 

Anoka city attorney Scott Baumgartner declined the Reformer’s requests for a statement pending further review of the DOJ’s report.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Nafi Soumare
Nafi Soumare

Nafi is an intern reporting for the Minnesota Reformer. Her interests in reporting include social justice, reform, and issues in the Minnesota education system.