Judge rules against landlords group in lawsuit against City of Lawrence over housing nondiscrimination ordinance

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Adam Hall, an attorney representing a group of landlords in a lawsuit against the City of Lawrence, listens as Judge Mark Simpson speaks during a hearing Monday, Aug. 21, 2023, in Douglas County District Court.

District Court Judge Mark Simpson has ruled against a group of landlords in their lawsuit against the City of Lawrence, which argued that the city’s housing nondiscrimination ordinance was “unconstitutionally vague.”

Simpson issued his judgment on Tuesday. Both parties had requested a resolution through summary judgment, a decision based on a matter of law without the need for a full trial.

The Landlords of Lawrence group had sued the city in April 2023 aiming to halt changes to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance earlier that year that prevent renters from being discriminated against based on their source of income — including their use of housing vouchers or other government assistance — or immigration status.

The landlord group has previously argued that the ordinance is preempted by federal statute and would violate parts of the U.S. Constitution, but Simpson disagreed in his ruling.

“After careful consideration, the court determines that the ordinance is not unconstitutionally over broad, and that federal law does not preempt the ordinance,” the ruling reads. “Additionally, plaintiff does not have standing to assert that the ordinance violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. For these reasons, summary judgment is granted in the city’s favor and the amended petition is dismissed.”

Regarding the claim that the ordinance’s definition of “source of income” is unconstitutionally vague, the ruling states that the definition is easily understood and covers a wide range of factual scenarios. However, the landlord group had previously argued that the ordinance would obligate a landlord to rent to drug dealers, human traffickers or even “assassins.”

“There is nothing in the ordinance that prevents a landlord from declining to rent to someone who is engaged in dangerous, illegal conduct that might make them a risky tenant,” the ruling reads. “In that instance, it is the illegality of the prospective tenant’s conduct that is legitimately considered by a landlord, not the source of their income. The ordinance does not prohibit landlords from making common sense decisions about risk due to criminal behavior of a prospective tenant.”


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