Bismarck landlord sued by Council, residents


For Further Information: Amy Schauer Nelson

BISMARCK, ND, October 15, 1999 - The North Dakota Fair Housing Council (NDFHC) and two Bismarck residents filed a federal lawsuit today against Virgil manager, charging discriminatory housing practices.

Amy Schauer Nelson, Executive Director of the NDFHC stated, "It is shocking to hear how Mr. Woeste treated his tenants and the statements that he made to them."

Mr. Woeste manages the 40-unit Century Apartments complex whose ownership is listed as Woeste Creameries, Inc. Since 1995, the NDFHC has received 8 complaints of discrimination against the management of Century Apartments.

On the basis of the complaints, the NDFHC conducted an investigation of Mr. Woeste's business operations.

The investigation by the NDFHC confirmed the basis for the complaints. The complaint charges that Mr. Woeste routinely harasses female tenants. Mr. Woeste told one female tenant that "he wasn't going to jump her yet." He told another female tenant that he bet she liked "long hard screws." Female tenants complained of references to them by Mr. Woeste as "his girls" and "baby." In addition, complaints were lodged about Mr. Woeste's sexually explicit language, sexual references to female tenant's bodies and other inappropriate comments/remarks.

The investigation also found that several female tenants complained about unannounced entries into their apartment while they were at home or away. Female tenants complained about him entering their apartments while they were sleeping or in the shower to then discover Mr. Woeste when they came out. Female tenants were told they were not allowed to have chains on their doors because Mr. Woeste was to be able to enter their apartment at any time. One tenant was told to just be quiet and live with it.

"As we conducted our investigation, it became obvious that if you were a single female you were exposed to a side of Mr. Woeste that was not appropriate in his role as a landlord," explained Schauer Nelson. Two Bismarck residents who rented housing from Mr. Woeste are also part of the lawsuit.

The federal law that governs housing discrimination is the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which was passed by Congress in 1968. The FHA forbids discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status (presence of children), or disability. The North Dakota Century Code on Human Rights forbids similar kinds of discrimination and also gives further protection to individuals on the basis of age, receipt of public assistance, and marital status.

The North Dakota Fair Housing Council is a North Dakota non-profit organization located in Bismarck. The NDFHC's mission is to provide support, encouragement, and assistance to those seeking equal access to housing in the state of North Dakota. The NDFHC also investigates complaints of housing discrimination.

This case was filed simultaneously in federal District Court in Bismarck and with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which enforces the FHA. The NDFHC and the individual plaintiffs are represented in the lawsuit by Marilyn Foss, a Bismarck lawyer, and by Christopher Brancart, a lawyer from Pescadero, California who specializes in fair housing litigation.