Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission Wins Fair Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Against Landlord for $50,000

City of Des Moines Civil and Human Rights

Press Release


Des Moines, Iowa — Friday, May 21, 2021 — The Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission on Thursday won a court case against Des Moines landlord Patrick Knueven for engaging in housing discrimination by steering potential tenants due to their religion or national origin.

The Des Moines human rights ordinance prohibits discrimination based on religion and national origin, which includes unfair treatment that discourages persons from renting a housing unit (also known as "steering").

The lawsuit originally arose from a complaint filed by a prospective tenant in 2015, who believed she received unfair treatment once she met Mr. Knueven in person and he saw that she wore a hijab, a headscarf worn by women of the Muslim faith. “She was uncomfortable moving forward but I told her we would look into the situation,” said Joshua V. Barr, director of the Civil and Human Rights Department. “The Department began testing with local volunteers and the Fair Housing Center of NE-IA, and over the course of a few years we believe that we had enough evidence of a pattern and practice by Mr. Knueven of giving different treatment and rental inquiry experiences to persons with accents and persons that identified as Muslim.” In August 2017, the testing conducted by the Department concluded. The Department officially filed a Charge of Discrimination in January 2018 against Mr. Knueven, alleging discriminatory steering in housing based on religion and national origin.

After delays due to COVID-19, the case was heard during the week of May 17, 2021, and on May 20, the jury found Patrick Knueven guilty of engaging in illegal housing steering on the basis of religion and national origin. He was fined a civil penalty of $50,000 for violating the fair housing provisions in the Des Moines human rights ordinance.

Barr said the Commission and the Department will continue working to ensure that no one is subjected to discriminatory housing practices because of their religion or national origin, and that housing providers in Des Moines understand and meet their responsibility to comply with the City’s civil and human rights laws.

“In many cases, discrimination is not overt — people experience things that make them feel uncomfortable, but they don’t think of it as discriminatory. If something does not feel right, we invite people to reach out to our office. When the Des Moines Human Rights Ordinance indicates that your rights have been violated, we will step in and defend you no matter how long it takes,” he said.

Any person who believes they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting the Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission at (515) 283-4284 or humanrights@dmgov.org. Discrimination complaints may also be filed online at humanrightsDSM.org.


Contact
Joshua V. Barr
Director, Civil & Human Rights Department
(515) 283-4284
humanrights@dmgov.org

About the Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission
The Des Moines Civil & Human Rights Commission works to foster justice and equality for all people who live or visit Des Moines by creating an atmosphere of opportunity regardless of: race, color, creed, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, ancestry, national origin, physical and mental disability or family status. More information is available at humanrightsDSM.org.

About the City of Des Moines
The City of Des Moines: Iowa’s capital city and local government servicing more than 217,000 residents, 51+ neighborhoods, over 4,000 acres of parkland and 81 miles of trails. The City of Des Moines stands to be a financially strong city with exceptional city services, fostering an involved community in a customer friendly atmosphere. Visit DSM.city, Facebook and Twitter for more information.