Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

back
Topic /161
North Dakota Fair Housing Counsel v. Peterson

Citation. N.D. Fair Hous. Council, Inc. v. Peterson, 2001 ND 81, 625 N.W.2d 551, 2001 N.D. LEXIS 96 (N.D. May 1, 2001)

Brief Fact Summary. An unmarried couple was denied housing. They brought suit claiming housing discrimination in violation of the North Dakota Human Rights Act.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order to give both the Act and a statute forbidding cohabitation meaning, the court found that the cohabitation statute bans conduct rather than status. Therefore, failure to rent to an unmarried couple is not a violation of the Act.

Facts. An unmarried couple, Robert and Patricia Kippen, tried to rent from David and Mary Peterson, who refused because the unmarried couple was seeking to cohabit. The North Dakota Fair Housing Counsel and the Kippens sued, claiming housing discrimination in violation of the North Dakota Human Rights Act. The district court granted a motion to dismiss due to a lack of standing on behalf of the Housing Counsel and granted summary judgment on behalf of the Petersons over the Kipplins.

Issue. Does refusing to rent to an unmarried couple because they are seeking to cohabit violate the discriminatory housing practices provision of the North Dakota Human Rights Act?

Held. The refusal to rent to a couple seeking to cohabit does not violate the Act because it is supported by an existing criminal cohabitation statute.
The analysis requires statutory interpretation. North Dakota has prohibited unlawful cohabitation since statehood. The Attorney General has issued a formal opinion stating that the Act is not in conflict with the statute making cohabitation criminal. House bills have failed to overturn the cohabitation statute. Previous district court precedent concluded that it was not unlawful to rent to an unmarried couple seeking to cohabit.

The Act prohibits discrimination based on status with respect to marriage. The Petersons argue that the Kippens were denied housing not because they were single, but because they were unmarried and seeking to cohabit. Courts have upheld a refusal to rent to unmarried couples in similar situations, differentiating between status and conduct.

The legislature that enacted the Act is presumed to have known about the criminal cohabitation statute. Therefore to harmonize the two statutes, the court finds that the cohabitation statute regulates conduct, not status. In this way both the Act and the statute are given full effect.

Discussion. Because both the Act and the cohabitation statute were valid laws, the court applied the Act in a way that allowed both laws to still be applicable.