Instead of enforcing anti-discrimination laws, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission accepted financial donations from landlords to keep their cases out of the courts.
According to the Des Moines Register
, at least 27 landlords were allowed to make contributions to avoid charges they discriminated against housing applicants on the basis of race, disability or family status.
The cases, the newspaper reported Thursday, date back to at least 2006 and represent what one Iowa attorney described as "grossly unethical" conduct on the part of the commission.
“In my opinion, their conduct was grossly unethical,” attorney Mark Smith told the Register, portraying the commission's actions as basically a shakedown aimed at collecting money instead of enforcing the law.
The commission's practice of accepting landlord donations ended early last year, the Register reported, when Smith, representing a landlord who was told to make a $500 "voluntary contribution" to the commission or face legal action, filed an ethics complaint with the state's ombudsman.
Former commission Chairwoman Alicia Claypool, whose signature was on many of contribution agreements, defended the practice, however, as a way both to educate and punish landlord violations of state and federal laws.
She told the Register that in addition to collecting what she called "a fine" paid directly to the commission, the payment agreements included requirements the landlords submit regular compliance reports, attend anti-discrimination training, or post federal fair housing information on their properties.
"They didn’t just pay a fine and that was all of it,” Claypool said. “There was ongoing reviews and they had training, and understood it was mandated.”
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