LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday alleging that the city of Hesperia and the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department discriminated against African American and Latino renters in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The lawsuit alleges that the city, with support from the sheriff’s department, enacted a rental ordinance with the intent of what one city councilmember called a “demographical problem,” according to a DOJ news release. The suit claims the ordinance resulted in the evictions of numerous African American and Latino renters.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances intended to push out African American and Latino renters because of their race and national origin, or from enforcing their ordinances in a discriminatory manner,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a release. “The United States Department of Justice will continue zealously to enforce the Fair Housing Act against anyone and any organization or institution that violates the law’s protections against race, national origin, and other forms of unlawful discrimination.”

The “Crime Free Rental” ordinance, required all rental property owners to evict tenants, upon notice of the sheriff’s department, who had engaged in any alleged criminal activity on or near the property. The lawsuit alleges that the sheriff’s department exercised its discretion in enforcement to target African American and Latino renters along with majority-minority areas of Hesperia.

The lawsuit also alleges that the sheriff’s department notified landlords to begin evictions of entire families — including children — for conduct involving one tenant or even non-tenants, evictions of victims of domestic violence and evictions based on allegations — without evidence of criminal activity.

The city of Hesperia said it had not been served with the lawsuit, but said the city does not believe it violated state housing laws. In a statement, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said it disagreed with the allegations, and intended to “vigorously defend this in court.”

The suit is based on an investigation and charge of discrimination by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which found that African American and Latino renters were significantly more likely to be evicted under the ordinance than white renters, and that evictions disproportionately occurred in majority-minority parts of Hesperia.

According to HUD, African American renters were four times as likely than white renters to be evicted because of the ordinance, and Latino renters were 29% more likely than white renters to be evicted. Sheriff’s department data showed that 96% of people targeted for eviction under the ordinance in 2016 lived in majority-minority census blocks.

“HUD determined that reasonable cause existed to believe the city and county engaged in illegal discriminatory housing practices,” the DOJ said in a news release.

Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, email the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.

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