Yesterday, the DOJ announced that “filed a lawsuit alleging that the City of Hesperia, California, and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in California discriminated against African American and Latino renters in violation of the Fair Housing Act.” This litigation could create new ammunition to special-interest tenant advocates and policymakers who want to impose further regulation on evictions, the use of eviction records, and the creation of national eviction databases. The case, filed in the Central District of California
alleges that the City, with substantial support from the Sheriff’s Department, enacted a rental ordinance with the intent of addressing what one City Councilmember called a “demographical problem” – the City’s increasing African American and Latino population – resulting in the evictions of numerous African American and Latino renters. The ordinance…required all rental property owners to evict tenants upon notice by the Sheriff’s Department that the tenants had engaged in any alleged criminal activity on or near the property. The complaint further alleges that the Sheriff’s Department exercised its substantial discretion in enforcement to target African American and Latino renters and majority-minority areas of Hesperia. Although the ordinance purported to target ‘criminal activity,’ the Sheriff’s Department notified landlords to begin evictions of entire families including children for conduct involving one tenant or even non-tenants, evictions of victims of domestic violence, and evictions based on mere allegations and without evidence of criminal activity.
The complaint also alleges that “in addition to the eviction mandate, the ordinance required all rental property owners to register their properties and pay an annual fee; submit the names of all adult tenancy applicants to the Sheriff’s Department for a background screening, and use a commercially available service to conduct at their own expense a criminal background check of their tenants; and subject their rental properties to annual inspections by police.”