In 2013, Martin Jones of Bay View, Milwaukee recently found himself out on the street after receiving a Notice to Vacate from Michael Haller. This Notice came one short month after Haller, a European American agreed to let Jones, an African American, rent one bedroom in his home for $400 per month. Although Haller signed this agreement with Jones, he was not the sole owner of the home. Ownership was shared by his wife, to whom he was separated at the time. Though separated, Haller’s wife still came to the property to do laundry, which is how she first met the new tenant.
After Haller’s wife met Mr. Jones, she and her estranged husband got into an argument over the new living arrangement. This argument stemmed from the fact the Mr. Jones was African American. Shortly after this confrontation, Mr. Haller informed Mr. Jones that his wife was uncomfortable with someone of his race living in the home. Further, since she still retained ownership in the property, Haller expressed a need to take her feelings into consideration.
On March 13, 2013, Mr. Jones received a Notice to Vacate and he removed himself from the property between March and April of 2013. Following his eviction, Mr. Jones filed an action on October 17, 2014, asserting that, by being evicted, he was discriminated upon based on race, in opposition to the Wisconsin Open Housing Law. In response, Mr. Haller filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and for summary judgment to dismiss the case. This motion was granted on November 2, 2015, by the Circuit Court which issued a written order of dismissal with prejudice.
WISN interviewed Haller, who denied Jones story.
Not deterred by the lower court’s ruling, Mr. Jones appealed the decision to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals District 1. Mr. Jones argued that the Circuit Court erroneously ruled that 2209 East Volmer was not comprised of two dwelling units, therefore; not subject to WIS. STAT. § 106.50(2)(f) (2015-16) 1, which makes it illegal to discriminate “by refusing to renew a lease, causing the eviction of a tenant from rental housing or engaging in the harassment of a tenant.”
While the court did not dispute the fact that Mr. Jones was evicted because of his race, thus discriminated upon; they ruled that there was no Landlord/Tenant relationship present to constitute discrimination under Wisconsin’s Open Housing Law. Under the Open Housing Laws, to discriminate “means to segregate, separate, exclude, or treat a person or class of persons unequally in a manner described in sub. (2), (2m), or (2r)because of … race.” Sec. 106.50(1m)(h). The exception to this is that an individual can decide who they want to share a “dwelling” with. Sec. 106.50(5m). This statute further describes a dwelling as “a structure or … which is used or intended to be used as a home, residence or sleeping place by one person or by 2 or more persons maintaining a common household, to the exclusion of all others.” See § 101.71(2).
The question presented to the Appellate Court was whether the property at 2209 Eat Vollmer was a “dwelling” that falls within the exceptions to discrimination or whether it was divided into two dwelling units pursuant to the signed lease, thus causing the parties’ relationship to be that of a landlord and tenant.
The court found that there was not sufficient evidence to show that the residence was two dwelling units as defined under Sec. 101.71(2) of the Wisconsin Statute, thus making it a single dwelling unit. Further, since it was a single dwelling unit, there was a roommate relationship between the two parties and not that of landlord-tenant. Therefore, requesting Mr. Jones to move out was not a discriminatory eviction; it was simply Mr. Haller deciding whom he wanted to live with in his home. Thus the Wisconsin Court of Appeals effectively ruled that it is in fact, legal to force a black roommate to “Get Out.”