The Nebraska Supreme Court sided Friday with a Lincoln landlord accused of housing discrimination against a renter who is Haitian.
In 2013, about a month after signing a one-year lease, Lionel Simeus filed a complaint with the Lincoln Commission on Human Rights, saying he had been discriminated against on the basis of race and nationality. The complaint named Ryan Reinke, owner of the RGR Company.
Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret had ruled for Simeus, but the high court reversed that decision. The ruling said the commission did not prove that the landlord’s stated reasons for evicting Simeus were false or that Reinke’s real reason was to discriminate.
“We’re obviously disappointed,” said Jeffrey Kirkpatrick, the Lincoln city attorney who represented the commission. “This is a case we felt pretty strongly about. There’s discrimination going on, and people don’t report it. When someone actually reports it and there’s a finding of discrimination, it really is disappointing when it’s reversed.”
In his complaint, Simeus said he had multiple issues with his apartment, including broken appliances and electricity outages. Simeus alleged that when he discussed the problems with Reinke, the property owner said: “That’s why I don’t want to deal with you foreigners.”
Reinke denied the interaction.
But shortly after the alleged conversation, he gave Simeus notice that the lease was being terminated.
The landlord claimed that Simeus had violated the lease agreement by burning candles, incense or smoking within the apartment and by threatening other tenants.
In October 2013, the Lincoln commission issued a “charge of discrimination” against RGR, alleging that Reinke failed to respond to Simeus’ requests for repairs in a timely fashion. The commission also concluded that timely repairs had been made to units occupied by other tenants who were not black or Haitian.
Maret agreed with the commission, but the high court sent the case back to her Friday with instructions to dismiss the charges against the landlord. “My client did not discriminate at any time, and this decision is evidence of that,” said Melanie J. Whittamore-Mantzios, who represented Reinke.
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