A Minnesota city will rewrite an anti-crime law seen as harming mentally ill residents

A city in Minnesota has agreed not to release personal medical information about tenants with mental health problems and to pay $175,000 to resolve a federal government complaint that the city discriminated against mentally ill residents in enforcing an anti-corruption law. -crime law.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday its agreement with the city of Anoka, a mid-sized suburb of Minneapolis. It addresses allegations that the city violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by improperly pressuring landlords to evict tenants with mental health issues through multiple police or emergency calls to their addresses. The DOJ also filed a federal lawsuit against the city on Tuesday, but that case will not proceed if a judge approves the agreement.

The department told the city in a letter in November that an investigation found illegal discrimination in enforcing a “crime-free” housing ordinance, which allows the city to impose fines or deny rental permits to landlords whose properties are deemed a nuisance or a nuisance. source of criminal activity. In at least 780 cases from 2018 to mid-2023, the city issued weekly reports to landlords sharing details about people’s mental health crises and even how some attempted suicide, the DOJ said.

DOJ officials described the November letter as a first-of-its-kind finding of discrimination against people with mental health disabilities under one of hundreds of anti-crime ordinances passed by cities across the U.S. since the early 1990s. Housing and civil liberties advocates have long argued that these policies are more heavily enforced in poor neighborhoods and against people of color.

“Anoka’s so-called ‘crime-free’ housing program does not protect public safety, but rather endangers lives by discouraging people with disabilities and their loved ones from reaching out for help when they need it most,” said the U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights. Division, a statement said.

Anoka, with a population of about 18,000, is located about 20 miles northwest of Minneapolis and has been home to a state psychiatric hospital for more than 100 years.

The mayor and city attorney did not immediately respond to email and phone messages seeking comment, but according to the agreement, the city denied wrongdoing and denied the allegations in the November letter and the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

“However, the city wishes to avoid any litigation,” the agreement said, adding that Anoka wanted to ensure its policies were compliant with both the ADA and federal fair housing laws.

The city’s $175,000 payment will cover compensation for people the DOJ says were harmed by Anoka’s enforcement of the anti-crime ordinance.

The city will have 30 days to revise its anti-crime housing ordinance, which allows the Anoka to suspend a landlord’s rental permit if more than four “nuisance” calls are made to an address in a year. A nuisance call involves ‘disorderly conduct’, such as criminal activity and actions that endanger others, as well as ‘unwarranted calls to the police’ and allowing a ‘physically offensive condition’ to continue without further action. to define.

Under the agreement, the city cannot treat mental health-related calls to an address as nuisance calls, and is required to notify both tenant and landlord when a call is deemed a nuisance call for any other reason , and provide them with information on how to appeal. .