Landlords Claim Twin Cities’ Voter Law Violates Their Free Speech

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Under the threat of criminal prosecution, landlords say they are forced to be the carriers of the government’s “ideological” message in violation of their protected free speech.

A group of landlords say they will be criminally prosecuted if they do not comply with city policies by providing information to their tenants on where and how to register to vote. 

Minnesota Voters Alliance sued the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis in federal court on Wednesday. They claimed city codes requiring them to provide voter registration information to their tenants violate their First Amendment right to free speech.

They also alleged that this requirement forces them to carry the government’s “ideological message” to their prospective tenants or tenants, according to the lawsuit.

Minnesota Voters Alliance also supported the voter photo ID amendment proposal that was defeated in 2012 by voters. The nonprofit group, however, won a U.S. Supreme Court case this last summer striking down Minnesota’s vague ban of wearing political apparel in polling places.

R & J Real Estate, Well Maintained Apartments, Garfield Court Partnership, along with landlords Marissa Skaja and Charles Halverson—both members of the Minnesota Voters Alliance—are also named plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, St. Paul and Minneapolis both enforce city codes that require landlords to, at the time of signing a lease, provide information to all tenants over the age of 18 of their right to vote and how to register to vote.

If a landlord fails to provide this information to a tenant, he or she will be subject to criminal prosecution. In St. Paul, the landlord can be charged with a petty misdemeanor and in Minneapolis a landlord can be subject to condemnation, written violation orders, warnings or criminal charges.

Well Maintained Apartments owns 300 rental units in St. Paul and Garfield Court owns 110 units in Minneapolis. Both are members of Minnesota Voters Alliance.

The group says it has been provided documents about voter registration to give to first time occupancy tenants by Minneapolis officials and its members have complied with the city codes because they are fearful of prosecution.

Minnesota Voters Alliance says that the passing of these city codes, Chapter 48 of the City Code in St. Paul, in particular, is an ideological belief of the government.

“Saint Paul’s policy and ideology—its charge and responsibility—in part, is to get more people registered to vote, assist Ramsey County with preregistration, and to encourage people to participate in government, through landlords. Landlords, according to the City, are part of the City’s vision to carry to tenants the City’s policy and ideological message,” the lawsuit states.

The group says the city code is compelled speech, and whether a tenant is registered to vote is irrelevant to a tenant’s decision to enter into a lease agreement with a landlord.

Neither the plaintiff’s attorney Erik Kaardal, nor the city of Minneapolis immediately responded to a request for comment Thursday morning.

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