Human Rights Act covers rental issues

  • Article by: KAREN YOUSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 21, 2008 - 7:44 AM

Q In Minnesota, are there any laws, local or state, that pertain to landlords renting to undocumented immigrants?

A Jeff Holman, with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, writes that he is unaware of any state laws or local ordinances that pertain specifically to landlords renting to undocumented immigrants.

Because the state Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in housing, a landlord's questions about immigration status could be discriminatory and illegal under the act. If a landlord asks about the immigration status of potential renters because they appear to be of a particular ethnic group or speak with an accent, and then does not offer the unit to them, this could be evidence that the landlord considered national origin (and possibly immigration status) in the selection.

Even if a landlord were to inquire about the status of every potential renter, such inquiries could have a disproportionate impact on certain ethnic groups, and could indicate a violation of the act.

The cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth have ordinances that prohibit housing discrimination based on national origin. Federal Fair Housing laws, enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, also prohibit this kind of discrimination.

Even so, there's evidence that some landlords are refusing to rent to those who don't speak English or are from Mexico or Somalia, said Jon Bargen, staff attorney with Centro Legal in St. Paul.

"Is an undocumented person going to complain? Not likely," he said.

Some states, such as Arizona, are trying to hold landlords responsible for renting to undocumented immigrants, said Bargen. But those efforts are still wending their way through the courts.

The Human Rights Act protects everyone in Minnesota -- whether they are "documented" or not -- from illegal discrimination in housing as well as employment, education, public accommodations, public services and other areas. Holman urges anyone who believes that they have experienced illegal discrimination to contact the Department of Human Rights at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704.

Send your questions to Fixit in care of the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, or call 612-673-7032, or e-mail fixit@startribune.com. Past columns are available at www.startribune.com/fixit. Sorry, Fixit cannot supply individual replies.

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