After long legal battle, landlords' suits against St. Paul dismissed

A more than decade-old legal case over enforcement of St. Paul rental housing codes is over.

The landlords had sued the city alleging discrimination under the federal fair housing act.

"What we saw here were landlords who were claiming that the city was violating the Fair Housing Act by aggressively enforcing its housing code provisions against these landlords," said attorney Skip Durocher, one of the lead attorneys for the city.

In the early 2000s, the city passed ordinances making it easier to revoke a landlord's license to rent. It also stepped up inspections and enforcement at buildings with large numbers of code violations, calls for police service and complaints from the neighbors.

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That angered landlords who claimed the city was "heavy handed" and sued.

The landlords agreed to drop the cases, said Durocher, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and a recent 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in related cases "raised the bar" for others to succeed.

"I think what it means is that landlords are going to have a very difficult time asserting these types of claims against cities like the city of St. Paul. They need to show that the policy is artificial, arbitrary and unneccessary," said Durocher, a partner at the firm of Dorsey and Whitney.

The Fair Housing Act was designed to protect people from discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation.

Durocher said court rulings have helped reinforce the intent of the law and made it more difficult for other classes of plaintiffs to claim discrimination.

Durocher says the final five cases were dismissed this week by a federal judge.