Maplewood sued for discrimination, targets ‘nuisance’ ordinance

The city of Maplewood has been hit with a lawsuit alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, according to the Riverfront Times.

Maplewood’s “chronic nuisance ordinance” effectively exiles households that have drawn two or more police calls — even if they’re the victims rather than perpetrators, the suit, filed by Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council charges. (Note: searching “chronic nuisance” in Maplewood’s online ordinances returns no exact matches.)

The city code “defines eligible ‘nuisances’ so broadly as to potentially include virtually any act that city officials do not like,” according to the suit, and says the ordinance  targets black residents, effectively banishing them for conduct that white residents face no repercussions for.

Attorney Sasha Samberg-Champion of Relman, Dane & Colfax: “It is shocking and unacceptable that Maplewood enforces its nuisance ordinance to accomplish such discriminatory and heartless results. It is remarkable enough that Maplewood claims the power to banish people from the City who haven’t been convicted of any crimes. Unsurprisingly, that authority has been abused. There is no legitimate reason to target African-American residents for much harsher enforcement. And it is simply cruel as well as illegal to punish people for being abused or for having a disability.”

Read the full article in the Riverfront Times. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also reported on this.

Maplewood City Manager Marty Corcoran Tuesday morning said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit yet, so couldn’t comment, and neither has the city attorney.

He said the complaint was filed two weeks ago with the Missouri Human Rights Commission and was rejected, which is standard procedure. That’s when the suit was filed.

25 thoughts on “Maplewood sued for discrimination, targets ‘nuisance’ ordinance

  1. Maplewood has long had a reputation in certain quarters for selective enforcement of laws and regulations. There is no surprise from African-Americans if it is mentioned being stopped while driving through Maplewood. They acknowledged the dangers of DWB in this community.

    As time has gone on and Maplewood has become trendier and trendier, I find that it is less and less friendly and less neighborly. New people are welcomed but only the “right” kind of new people. Wealthier is better. It seems, however, that Maplewood has something of a split personality. The school does wonders with lower income and disadvantaged students. The city, not so much with the parents.

  2. For all of the naysayers, just remember, racial issues exist even when they don’t happen to you. Instead of instantly doubting and demanding evidence and getting worked into a self-righteous frenzy, why can’t we just allow for the fact that our ordinances might allow for biases to lead to abuse and do something to change that? Unless we can honestly and rationally examine the issues and try to fix the problem, we will stay mired in the racial issues of the past. Here we are presented with an opportunity to remedy a problem. Let’s take it.

    • Overt racism has become less socially acceptable, like the City Manager pointed out, “I obviously would deny that we’ve ever done anything based on race…”. What has been acceptable, and common, are policies and practices that by design or implementation result in discriminatory treatment, often against particular minorities.

      It is shocking to have an ordinance that gives the City Manager direct power to circumvent the judicial branch of the legal system, to be the judge and jury on which residents are allowed to live in Maplewood. If a crime occurs, the person can be charged, found guilty and appropriately punished. But these are not crimes, and the punishment is not a fine/jail, but banishment from the city. Convicted felons have the right to live in our City, but we banish people that have emergency responders called to their house too often?!

      Both the Arch City lawsuit and the Equal Housing lawsuit, provide an opportunity for City leadership to reevaluate how existing policies discriminate. Both of the mayoral candidates brought up diversity as one of Maplewood’s strengths. Do our policies and actions support diversity, or do they support a particular kind of diversity? Do we support our neighbors at their lowest and most fragile times, or do we push them out under the guise of being a nuisance or annoyance? Even unintentionally, are our policies used to alienate particular groups of people? These lawsuits will be decided in court, but we can influence the policies that are under the purview of the officials we elect.

      We can be a beacon, an example of reform, in how we handle these charges. Or we can reaffirm empty promises to value diversity, while turning a blind eye to how our actions contribute.

  3. If you live in or around Maplewood, do you know just how many residential homes are rentals and section 8 housing? It is more than it should be for a community. But if Maplewood cannot get rid of all the rental units, the next best thing they can do is make sure everyone is safe and respecting their neighbors. If Maplewood did not enforce nuisance violations, it would not be a nice place to live. Victims of domestic violence or other unfortunate situations can attend a nuisance hearing, plead their case, and I am sure agreements are made on a case by cases basis. But if a tenants are dealing drugs, drunken, disorderly, etc., TWO calls to the police that are legitimately a concern, then they need to go.

  4. To clarify, I don’t feel that the Arch City Defenders lawsuit is bogus. I do feel that some of the facts have been misrepresented and I believe that a more accurate picture will emerge in the trial. With regard to the latest suit, this is a legal matter for the City Attorney to address. The only thing I can add is that most communities have similar nuisance ordinances and what needs to be determined if the ordinance is appropriately worded and if it is enforced in a fair and equitable manner. Since the suit has been filed, this will be determined through our legal system and the public will know the outcome at that time.

    • I think this a serious issue that needs fuller scrutiny. In addition to looking at the racial breakdown of people whose occupancy permits have been revoked, we need to look at the racial breakdown of those whose occupancy permits have not been revoked, even after multiple police calls. Two feuding Maplewood neighbors (both white households) had the police at their properties almost every weekend, sometimes multiple times a day, for several months. Obviously, there was quite a show of restraint from the city in enforcing the nuisance ordinance. I am a bit shocked and concerned to learn that some people have their permit revoked with just two police calls in light of what I have witnessed.

      • Good point, Meaghan. It seems to me as this is primarily used against renters, as I can’t imagine that someone that owns a home in Maplewood can legally have their property rights revoked.

  5. Who officially addresses things like this? Marty? Does the Mayor and/or City Council have any influence?

  6. None of the news sources contain references to which portion of the city code are the subject of the lawsuit. Nor do they provide links to read the lawsuit, which should be in the public record. Which portion of city code is the problem? Article VIII, Sec. 34-240, contains a detailed, 1000-word definition of what constitutes a nuisance. And the power to revoke an occupancy permit is subject to due process, not by decree of the city manager. What part is overly broad? What are the specific examples of Maplewood targeting and “banishing” black people? In other words, where’s the beef? I’m going to need some details and context before I resort to outrage.

    • The news reported that upon further looking, when it came down to enforcing the policies, the city is disproportionately enforcing it with African American residents. This adds to the risks of those in domestic violence relationships. More than 2 calls and now I am homeless? What if a person has been able to escape their abuser, but he keeps showing up at my house? I call the cops and then I find out I’m being told I can’t live in my own home anymore. An abuser can and will use this to his advantage. The victim no longer has housing… now he can get custody of the kids, because look – she got evicted.

      • Did that happen to you or someone you know, or are you just posing this as a possible scenario? Because I know for a fact that Maplewood has nuisance hearings and they listen to what you have to say and decide in thoughtful ways, not cold-hearted ways. I know this because I have seen it. This is used to get rid of bad people who should go…and the bad ones have to go or Maplewood becomes gross and everyone loses 🙁

        • So a victim should have to plea their case, to be revictimized further? What if she is still with her abuser?

          These hearings are other ways the council can choose what “kind of people” should be allowed to stay. I’m all for the felony call policy. But just because a family lives in a rental/section 8 doesn’t mean they are undesirables.

          • Jessica, I live in Missouri, so I need someone to “show me” specific examples of a racist agenda to banish black people from Maplewood. It’s a serious accusation that warrants evidence and inspection. Which news stories? The RFT and P-D stories had zero specifics. Everything you are saying is a “what if.” Who are the injured parties? Do you have real-life experience with the city acting capriciously to revoke occupancy permits? Does ACD even have standing to bring the case? If this is a real problem, then I will be outraged at the city. In the absence of specifics, it’s a great big nothingburger.

          • Maybe Maplewood needs some improvement to the nuisance ordinances *if it is found to have not been fair*. An abusive relationship is certainly an extremely difficult situation, but if/when a victim of abuse seeks help, help is available. If she/he is in the abusive relationship, living with the abuser, she/he might not want to report it–I understand that, but that is different from someone else calling the police to report a neighbor screaming/fighting. If I hear screaming/fighting next door to me, I am going to call the police. And I will add that I also DO NOT want to live next door to screaming/fighting. I do not want it–is there something wrong with NOT wanting to live next door to that kind of threat? A victim of abuse can find help when she/he decides to ask for it. Are you honestly telling me that you would be just fine having a tenant living next door to you if there is screaming, fighting, or, god forbid, even worse? Do you want Maplewood to NOT be able to get rid of a tenant having repeated screaming/violent fights? I am asking because I cannot even imagine that you would be OK living next door to this. Again, if there is room for improvement to the nuisance rules without impacting Maplewood’s ability to get rid of tenants *who need to go*, I am all for it–improvement is a good thing for everyone. But we should allow Maplewood to do their job keeping us all safe and our neighborhoods a nice place to live — for everyone.

        • but it hasn’t happened to you, yet, has it, Jaressa? I might find your comments rude. Is that enough for one nuisance violation?

    • Lincoln Douglas, this is the section that I would view as overly broad:

      “Any pursuit followed or act done by any person to the hurt, injury, ANNOYANCE, INCONVENIENCE or damage of the public.”

      The ordinance can be 1000+ words, but it only take a few to open the doors for biased enforcement.

      • I agree that could be interpreted broadly. And yes, it COULD lead to biased enforcement, but has that been the case? And is it fair to ascribe a racist motive to the city when it’s possible that they are willing to revise the ordinance? It would have been nice if the reporters had done half as much legwork as you did. I don’t doubt the ordinance needs revision. My issue is with the vague, inflammatory rhetoric being used by Arch City Defenders and others who have offered little in the way of evidence or thoughtful legal analysis. The RFT and P-D published their reports before the city could even review the lawsuit. It makes for a great headline and clickbait, but they have presented only one side of the issue.

        • I agree, headlines and vague reporting don’t do justice to the issues. Arch City does have the full lawsuit available online, which describes in detail the treatment received by the plaintiffs in the case, both at the hands of police and the court system. And hopefully the Equal Housing Council suit will be made public soon. The law doesn’t necessarily require intent/motive to prove discrimination. If a policy has a disparate impact on a protected class, that can be enough.

  7. Do you have any plans to gather comments about this from our two candidates for mayor? I’d be really interested to see how they respond.

    • I agree. I really like Barry and agree with him on a lot, but I was at the debate and was less than excited about his response regarding the current class action lawsuit. He basically said that law abiding citizens have nothing to worry about and that this lawsuit was bogus. However, having read the actual case, the statistics suggest that Maplewood has some issues and that they need to be addressed. Arch City defenders has sued numerous municipalities for this exact thing and they have won almost every time. This is another example of the city requiring more oversight then it currently gets. Based on Barry’s response for the current lawsuit, it would suggest to me that we wouldn’t see any change in the city which opens the city up for further legal actions.

    • One of the candidates has said he can’t comment on this, not speaking for the city in an official capacity. I would guess we won’t hear from either candidate on this.