LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — A federal housing agency is accusing a western Wisconsin landlord of refusing to rent a rural house to a single mother because there was no man to live with her “to shovel the snow,” but the property owner said Saturday that she was simply watching out for the woman’s welfare.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a complaint alleging that Darlene Dovenberg’s refusal to rent the home was a violation of the Fair Housing Act, which bans discrimination based on gender or family status.

“Fairness dictates, and the Fair Housing Act requires, that housing decisions not be based on outmoded stereotypes of people’s `place’ in our society,” HUD official John Trasvina said in the statement this week.

The HUD complaint said Dovenberg refused to rent a house in rural Bangor because the female applicant didn’t have a man “to shovel the snow.” The agency said Dovenberg later rented the home to two men. The complaint was filed on behalf of the female applicant, whose name wasn’t released.

Dovenberg told The Associated Press that the agency mischaracterized her intentions. The home is in a remote area of La Crosse County that gets poor cellphone reception and unreliable landline service, she said, and she was worried about the woman’s safety.

Dovenberg said she thought she was doing the applicant a favor by steering her away from a property that could be difficult for a lone woman and child to manage during heavy snowfalls.

“I as a landlord just used good judgment and common sense,” she said during a phone interview. “I knew I wouldn’t want my daughter or anyone up there in the deserted woods to live in the winters. I felt it would not be safe, especially for someone with a small child. I felt like it’s a place that needs more adults.”

According to the charge against Dovenberg Investments LLC, an unnamed woman responded to an online ad in October 2010 for a two-bedroom home on a cattle farm in the Irish Coulee area. Dovenberg told AP she refused to even show the woman the property.

The woman told housing authorities she wanted to live in the house because the rent was cheap, it was closer to her job in La Crosse and it would have given her disabled son access to a school district that would be able to serve him better.

Dovenberg said she warned the woman that the home was at the bottom of a steep embankment. She said it has a quarter-mile-long driveway that can become so treacherous in the winter that the resident would need a vehicle with four-wheel drive, and even then there was a risk of getting stuck.

“Can you imagine renting to somebody and then having some tragedy happen?” she said. “Can you imagine having a big deep heavy snowfall, thinking you have to get out and you can’t, and here you have a child in the house? What do you do?”

She said she “begged” a HUD investigator to look at the property to understand how treacherous the conditions could be, but the investigator declined.

A phone message from AP left Saturday with a HUD official wasn’t immediately returned.

John Fischer, the former president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, told the La Crosse Tribune for a story Saturday that there are other ways to deal with that problem. Landlords have other options for protecting their interests without discriminating, he said.

“It’s legitimate to say `You’re going to be responsible for lawn mowing. Is that going to be a problem?”‘ he said. “That is completely different from assuming the tenant can’t do it.”

A first offense of the Fair Housing Act can result in a fine of up to $16,000 plus damages and attorney’s fees. The charge filed by HUD will be heard by a U.S. administrative law judge, unless either party elects to have the case heard in federal district court.

“If I made a mistake I’m sorry,” Dovenberg said. “I just wanted to be very honest. I really felt like I did the right thing.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (45)
  1. That is ridiclous. What is wrong with single parent families.

  2. Steve says:

    The funny thing is he or she could have don it without breaking the law. What a DA

  3. Lucifer says:

    I don’t see this as discrimination at all. The landlord is a legal owner of the property and has every right to decide who will live in his/her house. As long as he/she pays the mortgage and taxes its nobody’s concern who he/she lets live there.

    I’m sure there is an empty house just down the block and maybe that owner doesn’t mind renting to a single mother.

    1. Albert says:

      What Dave said. She wants to rent it, she follows all the laws. In fact, unless it is written into lease, SHE is responsible for the snow removal. Why not keep that responsibility on herself and help that poor mom and kid out?

    2. Susan B. Anthony says:

      Thank you. I couldn’t agree more. How about being a white male applying for a position on the Chicago police force? The government needs to get it’s nose out of our personal business. If the landlord doesn’t want to rent to someone, for whatever reason it may be, I feel (s)he should be entitled to that. Time to pull out the discrimination cards.

      1. Mike says:

        Susan and Lucifer
        You have a right to your opinion, no matter how wrong you are

        1. Lucifer says:

          As do you Mike…

          I will never understand your thought process. If I bought something (property, car,boat,food, clothing…. anything) Is it not my right to use that property as I see fit without anyone interfering with my right to enjoy MY property? You have no right to tell me who I must share my food with or who I may let ride in my boat or car.

          Why is it any different in your mind when it comes to a house that I buy and pay for that I have decided to rent out? My only requirement should be to pay the taxes and maintain a safe house for people to live in. Thats it! How would you feel if I showed up at your door and insisted that you rent me the use of your car? I might rent or borrow my car to a friend or family member but I would not rent it to a perfect stranger that my instints or personal experiences tell me is a bad risk. I doubt you would either but yet you reason that I should be forced to rent my house to anyone that shows up at my door wanting to rent. Seriously???

      2. markH says:

        Susan B. Anthony-You’re absolutely correct! Following your logic, government should has no business telling a landlord that she can’t rent to gays, Christians, the handicapped, blacks, Jews, etc. I think the motor that is your mind is about 2 quarts low. Peace.

        1. lib says:

          I am a landord and I have some sympathy fo this landord. Often times single women feel that renting a single family home is the same as renting an apartment. I am sure she would call the landlord at 6 in the mornling “hey I’m snowed in can you come dig me out” I don’t believe this landlord had any evil intent, but I am sure she will have to pay the $16,000, I personally think this was a put up job on the part of HUD. Why in the world would a single woman with a disabled child opt to be so far away from emergency services?

          1. Dave's Not Here says:

            “Why in the world would a single woman with a disabled child opt to be so far away from emergency services?”

            That is not the property owner’s business, nor is it yours.

      3. Tom says:

        @ Susan B Anthony

        For you to say that Gov’t needs to get its nose out of personal business is rich. Yes they should stay out but there are those who do want gov’t to get involved in other peoples busniess because they are offdended by what those people are doing!

  4. Trev says:

    Landlord should have never admitted that was the reason for denial.

  5. Dale Gribble says:

    It’s about time that someone took a stand against immorality and illegitimate children. Cheers for the landlord and jeers for the liberal atheist traitor at the Housing Department!

    1. dale dribble says:

      Who said the child was illegitimate? Who said the mom was immoral? Perhaps the father died, or he may have left the marriage when the child was diagnosed with disabilities (like my ex-husband did.)

      Gender does not equal ability to be self-sufficient. I own my home. I mow the lawn, clear the snow, fix the plumbing, and could tell you more about my vehicle than several of my male friends.

      This landlord may have been concerned, but it sounds to me like she made assumptions about the mother’s abilities. That’s where she went wrong. As stated, there were legal ways to ensure there were no problems.

      And how in the heck do you know the political and religious leanings of the HUD official when they are merely following the law?

      1. gordon says:

        Again you continue to show the pea size of your brain.

      2. Hey you hoser says:

        God is Canadian.

      3. dribble's drivel says:

        You can’t be serious, dribble. You think this woman would be better off not being self-sufficient and, instead, living off tax-payer funds?

        You can’t have it both ways.

        1. Dale Gribble says:

          She should be married, the way God intended.

      4. Dave's Not Here says:

        There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents.

  6. Jo says:

    I get tired of hearing about “single moms.” They say – I need special treatment at work because I am a single mom, It is harder for me because I am a single mom. I have it rough out in the big bad world because I am a single mom. I need financial help with daycare because I am a single mom. Granted, this landlord should not have discriminated. But I cringed when I saw the words “single mom.” I raised my children mostly by myself, but never used the single mom excuse.

    1. Jo JO says:

      “But I cringed when I saw the words “single mom.” I raised my children mostly by myself, but never used the single mom excuse.”

      what excuse did this single mom use, Jo?

  7. Leroy says:

    Sounds like the mom should just go somewhere else. Why can’t a landlord say “sorry, it is my property and I want a certain person in it”.

    The government does this all the time. If you are a white male applying for a supreme court position, the last position was discriminately given to a Minority female.

    This person is less of a bigot than our government is.

    1. Dave's Not Here says:

      “Why can’t a landlord say “sorry, it is my property and I want a certain person in it”.”

      Pesky anti-discrimination laws laid out in the Fair Housing Act.

      That’s why.

  8. joe says:

    uhhh, I would never rent to a single mother. Just won’t do it.

    1. Dave's Not Here says:

      The law says you will, if you rent out property and a single mother shows up with cash to sign the lease. Or you’ll be sued. There is no gray area here.

  9. Craven says:

    The owner should have the right to rent to they want to. I would never rent to a Muslim based on my own personal beliefs. I would not rent to hood rats either.

    1. albert says:

      You want to rent without laws, I’m sure you can relocate to Somalia.

    2. Paul Solinger says:

      And I wouldn’t rent to an ignorant, racist redneck due to my beliefs.; Looks like we cancel each other out.

    3. Dave's Not Here says:

      “The owner should have the right to rent to they want to.”

      You mean in an effort to exert your personal will over who lives where in your community? Sorry, the law won’t allow you to do that. And again, there is no gray area here.

  10. good grief says:

    Look what the government is doing for us!!! People, wise up!! This is not the government’s role. We need less of it. Good grief. Are you a free-er person with these laws?

  11. Minnesnowta says:

    How do you turn your diswasher into a snowthrower? … Buy her a shovel!

    1. SDREW says:

      Ha Ha…..But men are the dishwashers, I always see the men taking the dishes and the women doing everything else…..I do whatever needs to be done, I love my wife and that love goes beyond any bias in gender roles.

      1. your wife says:

        Aw, thanks honey!

      2. your wife says:

        But the answer is still no

  12. 2 sides to every story says:

    The picture of the complainant is not the real woman. The house is in the middle of nowhere in the woods. Pull your head out of your a$$.

  13. What year is it? says:

    Thank goodness the people who sold me my house didn’t think it was crazy that a single woman with no kids would want to buy their 3 bedroom home in the northwoods. And then according to some of you, maybe the bank should have stepped in and refused to take my money. They should have thought it insane that I would be able to shovel snow, mow the lawn, etc. Ever heard of Dorothy Molter?? If not, google her.

  14. bjc says:

    As a single mom AND a landlord I can look at this from both sides. !. I am women hear me roar…ya ya been there done that. It does not move snow. Yes the rent is cheap but Im thinking why in gods name would she want to live out in the middle of nowhere in N. Wisc. the money she saves in rent is going to be spent on Gas taking her child into town for all his events. I’m sure it is propane gas heat,paid for that lately. A little common sense needed here people, not HUD or anyone else. Landlord next time if there is one lie, lie,and lie some more just tell them it’s rented. You cannot protect people from themselves.

    1. Dave's Not Here says:

      “Yes the rent is cheap but Im thinking why in gods name would she want to live out in the middle of nowhere in N. Wisc. the money she saves in rent is going to be spent on Gas taking her child into town for all his events.”

      That is NOT YOUR BUSINESS. Mind your own needs. You don’t get to decide how someone else gets to live based on what you think about their situation, sorry!

  15. ANDY says:

    First of all, I want to say that the landlord is a closed minded person to think that a single parent can’t take care of his or herself. I can understand that the landlord can rent to whomever they want or deny it for whatever reason that may be. The landlord could have interviewed the potential tenant without being discriminatory and left it as simple as “there is another potential tenant ready to move in and I will get back to you”. The landlord broke the law by making those discriminatory comments. This story reminds me of a guy at work who used to interview people with questions like “ You go to church?” “Looks like your pregnant how far along are you?” “Are you married?“ “Where are you from, you look like you’re from another country?” This guy was the biggest racist I’ve ever met in my life. Anyways, these are questions that should never be asked to someone looking for a job or looking for a place to live. It may seem like in good taste or a way to find more information about a person. But, It’s against the law in these situations.

  16. ridiculoustosay says:

    Married? I am married and my husband is a couch potato. I clean the garage, shovel, take care of the yard, cook, clean, wash clothes, maintain my car and work full time all the while my husband watches TV. Was better off when I was single and had my 2 children. One less child.

  17. Too Dangerous says:

    She was not refused the house because she is a single mother, she was refused the house because it’s too dangerous for just one adult. I live in rural, it is very dangerous and this house sounds very bad. I can tell most of you commenting live in the safety zone of the metro. The owner said the even the landline phone goes out. The drive way is very long and no cell service. That house is way too dangerous for just one adult.

    1. Fred Farkle says:

      Why is the landlord renting this deathtrap to anybody? Although it does sound like a great place for a meth lab or Hannibal the Cannibal.

    2. Dave's Not Here says:

      “she was refused the house because it’s too dangerous for just one adult”

      The landlord is not qualified to judge that. Sorry. So sayeth the law.

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