MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A southern Minnesota town is being sued for allegedly racist rental policies.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Faribault Wednesday, which claims the city’s rental licensing ordinance discriminates against people of color and aims to drive them out of town. The city says the ordinance is meant to improve safety and sanitation,

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Thelma Jones lived in a rental home with her four children in Faribault for five years, but she was kicked out last fall for what she says were racist complaints.

“It has been very hard on my family,” Jones said. “My neighbor, who did most of the complaining I’m sure, she told me to go back to where I came from.”

In a 102-page lawsuit, the ACLU calls out the city’s Crime Free Housing Program and Rental Licensing Ordinance, which makes criminal background checks mandatory for tenants. It also has a three-strike rule for disorderly conduct complaints.

(credit: CBS)

“Every time we had family barbeques, the police were called. If the kids gathered on the trampoline, the police were called. It was just a lot of harassment,” Jones said.

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The lawsuit also takes issue with the city’s occupancy limits, which the ACLU says are stricter than Section 8 housing.

“We know that Somali families are more likely to be large, and there’s a growing Somali population in Faribault,” said ACLU Minnesota legal director Teresa Nelson.

Jones now lives in an apartment without two of her older children, as they could not afford a space large enough to accommodate the occupancy limit.

“We have this veneer of ‘Minnesota nice,’ but there is still an undercurrent of racism,” Nelson said.

There is a question-and-answer section on the city of Faribault’s website that addresses the ordinance with one specific question: “Doesn’t the ordinance promote discrimination or profiling?” The city says, in part, “no,” citing the Federal Fair Housing Act. Still the ACLU says it is unconstitutional, and they want it removed.

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Tim Murray, Faribault’s city administrator, told WCCO Wednesday he had not yet seen the complaint. But in a letter sent to the ACLU earlier this week, city officials said the claims were unfounded.

Kate Raddatz