We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Proposed Christian Women's House Violates SD Rental Law?

Thursday's print MDL gives front-page coverage to what looks like obvious housing discrimination. Mary Hunter of Madison and Tom Christopherson of Sioux Falls bought the old Trinity Lutheran parsonage last September. They lived in the house while their dad, James Christopherson, was pastor at Trinity in the 1970's and '80's. Hunter and Christopherson tell MDL's cub reporter Danny Andrews they plan to rent the house out to college-aged Christian women:

"We want to keep its heritage of a family house," Hunter said, adding that she hopes the women who live there to be [sic] "a sisterhood of believers."

..."I hope this house will be able to... [m]aintain that sense of a Christian home, a Christian community," [Christopherson] said [Danny Andrews, "Family Home Finds New Life as College Student Housing," Madison Daily Leader, 2009.04.23, pp. 1–2].

Andrews fails to ask the landlords about SDCL 20-13-20, South Dakota's discriminatory housing statute (emphasis mine):

20-13-20. Unfair or discriminatory housing practices by owner or agent. It is an unfair or discriminatory practice for any owner of rights to housing or real property, or any person acting for an owner, with or without compensation, including any person licensed as a real estate broker or salesman, attorney, auctioneer, agent, or representative by power of attorney or appointment, or to any person acting under court order, deed of trust, or will:
  1. To refuse to sell, rent, lease, assign, sublease, or otherwise transfer any real property or housing accommodation or part, portion, or interest therein, to any person because of the race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, familial status, or national origin of the person or persons intending to reside there;
  2. To discriminate against any person because of that person's race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, familial status, or national origin, in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale, rental, lease, assignment, sublease, or other transfer of any real property or housing accommodation or any part, portion, or interest therein;
  3. To directly or indirectly advertise, or to indicate or publicize in any other manner that the purchase, rental, lease, assignment, sublease, or other transfer of any real property or housing accommodation or any part, portion or interest therein, by persons of any particular race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, familial status, or national origin, is unwelcome, objectionable, not acceptable, or not solicited;
  4. To refuse to permit, at the expense of the disabled person, reasonable modifications of existing property that may be necessary to afford full enjoyment of property. The landlord may, where it is reasonable to do so, condition permission for a modification on the renter's agreeing to restore the premises to the condition that existed prior to the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted.
The provisions of subdivisions (1), (2), and (4) do not apply to rooms or units in dwellings that contain living quarters for no more than two families living independently of each other, if the owner maintains and occupies one of the living quarters as the owner's residence.

This section does not apply to dormitory residences maintained by public or private schools, colleges, and universities for the educational benefit and convenience of unmarried students or to dwellings occupied by fraternities or sororities officially recognized by such institutions. Nothing in this statute may be construed to displace federal, state, or local guidelines setting reasonable standards governing maximum numbers of occupants.

Welcome to the rental business, Tom and Mary. If you're renting this house, you can't even ask renters if they go to church (or even, in case of skinny applicants with short hair, whether they are female). The statements made by Hunter and Christopherson in Mary's husband's own newspaper might trigger this statute: a front-page news story with the subhead "Parsonage to be rented to Christian women from DSU" pretty clearly indicates and publicizes that rental by persons of one particular sex and most particular religions is not solicited.

Hunter and Christopherson refer to their positive experiences in themed housing at St. Olaf College. They're right: living in such intentional communities with folks of shared interests can be a great experience for college students. I certainly find living with a Christian woman to be a rewarding experience... although that might be a better argument for mixed housing.

Some dedicated Christian women's housing would be a nice way to carry on the spiritual tradition of the old Trinity parsonage. Maybe there is an arrangement by which Hunter and Christopherson can make their plan work. Maybe they can recruit some DSU ladies to start South Dakota's first Alpha Delta Chi chapter. But as it stands, unless I'm missing something (and if I am, I know you loyal readers will fill me in), you can't just up and rent your house exclusively to Christians, or women, any more than I could rent our Lake Herman guest cabin exclusively to atheists (not that I can find any around here).


  1. Many years ago I participated in an excercise to identify discriminatory rental owners near military bases.

    It was an eye opener for me. The expierience taught me that until you face discrimination first hand it is not possible to understand the damage that can be caused.

    Although emotional damage is not likely to be caused to anyone that would be interested in living in the referenced rental, the risk is not worth the benefit.

    So, as much as it pains me Cori, I have to agree with you. Discrimination is discrimination, period.

    Joseph G Thompson
    PS, This was in the 70's, and my black pretend spouse, at times, professed to be a follower of the Minister Malcomb X. So I got to see racial and religious prejudices face to face.

  2. I thought the city had an ordinance not more than 3 unrelated persons could live in a residence (although nothing like that is on the city web site). Neighbor concerns have arisen from that previously, especially with a proposed B&B. If Cory's right, people will probably just look the other way even if the court house is just a block away. Allowing discrimination is discrimination too.

  3. Cory, There are a bunch of NUNS living together up at Watertown. I'm not sure, but I think you have to be a NUN. You better get busy and try and get the controversy rolling. We can't have a bunch of exclusive NUNS living together. Leave it to you to try and expose a worldly view. Nice piece. FYI, you will need Christian on your resume to get into the Lord's house of Heaven. I'm praying for you, but your very stubborn and your heart is very hard.

  4. Didn't an elderly Sioux Falls landlord get in trouble by advertising his rental property was available to "Christian" white tennants just a couple of years ago? There's nothing wrong with hoping you'll get Christian tennants, but to demand it, that's another thing. Most likely, Trinity Lutheran Church will simply refer applicants to Mary and Tom, so the "Christian" part is inferred. It is interesting that in this country you can choose the type of religion or aetheism you wish to follow, which is protected by the US Constitution, however, landlords cannot decide who will rent from them.

  5. Yes, Cory could just not stand the fact that something good and descent might happen in this world. Thanks for bringing this obvious terribly gross negligent act to our attention.

  6. Anon 4:17, A monastery isn't the same as rental units and isn't covered under fair housing practices. Try again.

  7. Put down the personal pitchforks, Anons—I agree with Mary and Tom that theme/interest housing at college can serve some good purposes. I even offer a link to where they could look into starting a women's Christian sorority. I'm simply pointing out that if all we have here is a private landlord planning to rent exclusively to Christian women, that's illegal. Don't blame me; blame your Legislature, your Constitution, and the South Dakota Division of Human Rights that enforces such rules against improper discrimination in the marketplace.

    Nuns living together? No problem. I'd rent to nuns. Private landlord saying, "I will only rent to nuns"? Problem (at least until someone can show me an exception in state law that I've missed). [And thanks for the prayers, but I'm fine, really: pray for the hungry, the oppressed, and the other billions more worthy of your assistance.]

    [And I'd rather you Anons didn't feel the need to frame responses as personal attacks, but if you must get personal, why not leave your name? Rhetorically, I'm at a disadvantage against folks who shoot the messenger if I can't shoot back. ;-)]

  8. Here's the nanny state again. A person can't do a nice thing with property that he/she owns without somebody screaming discrimination. This is ridiculous.

  9. Ah, Where is the personal attack? I was just curious why you were so compelled to bring this story to our attention? Again, if you don't like the anon option eliminate it. You have eliminated plenty of comments in the past. Especially if they challenge your argument. You are the liberal media, you have got to expect some disagreement. By the way, I have watched you attempt to fight back and its quite entertaining.

  10. The personal attack comes in portraying this article as something personally motivated by a flaw in my character rather than a public policy issue. That's obvious to anyone giving the comments an honest read.

    I bring the story to your attention in part because it's a remarkable example of the local media not asking an obvious question: "Is that legal?" It's discrimination, a violation of state and federal law (and, as an Anon above notes, a potential violation of local housing code).

    ["plenty of comments"? Not quite. More for cuss words than anything else, even from folks with whom I agree. I'm pleased you are entertained.]

  11. As far as I'm concerned, if you own the property, you should be able to rent it out however you want. I own it, I will do what I want!

  12. Anon 8:14

    Discrimination only sucks when you are on the receiving end. If you've never been a minority, please, stop.

    Would you oppose me buying the lots next to your house and filling them with trashed cars stacked 3 deep?

    Of course you would. We as citizens accept certain restrictions on our property rights for the good of all. Anti-discrimination laws are meant to protect everyone.

    You're not a minority now. You received an advantage in life which you have parlayed into owning property. No need to doubly penalize minorities with your intolerance.

  13. I have been tickeled as I read some of these comments. THANK YOU. The only question I have is are there any covenents tied to this property???

  14. How can anybody determine for sure that anybody is a Christian? A person can go to church every Sunday and again on Ednesday evening, but party, commit adultery, and whatever else the Bible frowns on the rest of the week. Anybody can say they are Christian and not be serious about it.

  15. Since almost everyone in Madison is a white Christian it may seem unnecessary, but do you really want a protected class?

  16. I think the point is a law is being broken.

    More Importantly, a law is being broken and because of Madison's small-town mentality, no one is going to care.

    The courthouse is certainly going to turn a blind eye. It's not sad to have a bunch of Christian ladies in a house, but it is terribly sad that people will be denied housing and no one will care.

  17. I'm sure there are plenty of places to rent in Madison. To say that they are being denied a place to live because one (ONE) house denies them is ridiculous. My daughter was denied most rentals when she started work in another city because she had a cat. Should she have sued because owners refused to let a cat share a pad? Was a law broken because of their narrow mindedness? Sometimes the PC stuff is so over the top that it's actually scary!

  18. As Anon 4:54 said, it's not about PC; it's South Dakota law. The "narrow-mindedness" your daughter faced over her cat is of a significantly lesser degree than religious discrimination... something that, as Tony mentioned, very few of the privileged majority around here have suffered.

  19. I entirely agree with Corey here.

    Cat owners never have, nor will they ever be, a constitutionally protected group.

    The difference between a pet and religious convictions are plain as day.

    Now, as soon as you can show me a religion that sheds, makes everything smell like pee or tears up carpet, then I'll revoke my statements.

  20. Danny Andrews4/28/2009 9:43 AM

    To be fair, Mrs. Hunter did tell me that she would take anyone who wanted to live there.

    She mentioned that she would merely prefer her tenants to be Christian females.

    I can't speak for her, but I highly doubt discriminating against non-Christians or males crossed her mind.

  21. I threw in the cat comparison as a little levity. But it is still ridiculous in my mind that a person can't have control over his/her own property without bringing out the crowd that loves to scream racist or discrimination etc.

  22. Sorry, Anon: property rights do not include the right to engage in religious discrimination.

    And Danny! Welcome to the show! If Mrs. Hunter did tell you that, then you should have said so in the article. As it stands, the headline and text look like a pretty clear violation of state law. The story didn't say anything about a preference; the text declared "intent." The news article says to anyone of a different faith that their application to rent isn't really welcome... and that's a problem.

  23. Danny Andrews4/29/2009 1:56 PM

    I agree. I'm sorry to say that fact never crossed my mind to include it in the article, I thought people wouldn't care.

    I'm still learning the trade (this is my internship) and I'll make sure to never make this mistake again.

    ...and to study South Dakota Law a bit more intently.

  24. Nothing like trying to learn your trade with everyone watching...and occasionally lobbing tomatoes! I do not envy your position.

    I think of blogging as community journalism. As I write a story, I try to think of how other people might react to it. I anticipate questions, look into them, add a couple quotes and links. But every now and then, a commenter will still come up with a perspective that I never considered. It's all good. At its best, the blog is a community effort to build knowledge and tell better, richer stories. I like to think that community effort extends to helping you folks in the professional media tell better, richer stories.


Comments are closed, as this portion of the Madville Times is in archive mode. You can join the discussion of current issues at MadvilleTimes.com.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.