City of Lawrence sues landlord, alleges violation of source of income ordinance; landlord says ‘see you in court’

photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot

Lawrence resident Sue Herynk is pictured at the April 11, 2023, Lawrence City Commission meeting.

The City of Lawrence has filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court against a local landlord on behalf of a prospective renter who was allegedly discriminated against based on source of income.

The city earlier this year approved a nondiscrimination ordinance that prevents landlords from refusing applications from tenants who receive rental assistance such as Section 8 housing vouchers and also makes it unlawful to discriminate based on someone’s status as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking and immigration status.

The recently filed lawsuit claims that Lawrence landlords Joe and Sue Herynk, who run River City Homes Inc., violated the rights of a prospective tenant when they told her last August that they did not accept housing vouchers as payment for rent.

According to the suit, the woman, who was interested in a rental unit on Moundridge Court, offered to provide a letter of recommendation from her current landlord, whose property she had lived in for over 10 years. She also indicated that she was under the protection of the Violence Against Women Act.

In response, Sue Herynk, according to the suit, simply stated that her policy was not to accept vouchers.

The woman then filed a complaint with the city. When the city’s human relations investigator, Deborah Barns, asked Herynk for a response, Herynk wrote a letter, included as an exhibit in the lawsuit, stating that the city worked for her, a taxpayer, and that the city’s ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution.

When the city contacted the Herynks again for a substantive response to its claims, Sue Herynk wrote: “There is no way we will commit the time, effort or energy into providing you with the information that you requested.”

That letter, included as an exhibit in the lawsuit, ended with, “We will see you in court as previously stated.”

Herynk did provide a copy of her company’s rental policy, which includes a requirement that the source of income — presumably the federal government where section 8 funding is involved — must sign the lease.

The lawsuit states that the Herynks refused to participate in the investigation of the woman’s complaint or any form of conciliation provided by city ordinance to resolve the complaint, which at length prompted the city’s civil lawsuit.

The city is asking that the court find the Herynks’ actions illegal and discriminatory, that it prevent them from refusing to rent to tenants based on their paying with housing vouchers, that it assess a penalty of $10,000 in accordance with the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, and that it award damages to the woman for “significant injuries including application costs, emotional distress, loss of civil rights, loss of housing and humiliation and embarrassment.”

As the Journal-World reported, a landlord group had previously sued the city, arguing that the ordinance is preempted by federal statute and would violate parts of the U.S. Constitution, but District Court Judge Mark Simpson in May ruled against the group.

“After careful consideration, the court determines that the ordinance is not unconstitutionally over broad, and that federal law does not preempt the ordinance,” Simpson wrote.

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