The Lincoln Human Rights Commission fined a local landlord $2,000 and ordered him to pay a former tenant around $4,000 in damages for discrimination.
The six commissioners unanimously agreed that Ryan Reinke had discriminated against a Haitian tenant last summer because of his race or nationality.
Reinke refused to give the tenant, Lionel Simeus, a copy of the lease agreement, then told him to leave six days after he moved in and a day after he requested a copy of the lease.
The landlord appears to have intentionally cut off electricity to Simeus' apartment, made repairs in the apartment while the tenant was asleep, and rolled up his car window to avoid talking with Simeus, according to the commission order.
"Although Ryan Reinke seeks to paint himself as a dilatory landlord who fails to respond well to a wide spectrum of people," he has not shown that he had this specific behavior with other tenants, the order says.
"It is true that Lionel Simeus was not a perfect tenant. But the law allows landlords to deal with irksome individuals without discriminating against them."
In addition Reinke "treated Simeus with contempt. He mocked his accent and manner of speech, calling it a speech impediment," according to the commission's final order, approved at a Thursday afternoon commission hearing.
Ryan Reinke is a familiar name to local Human Rights commissioners, who said there have been a number of cases involving his rentals.
But this was the first time the commission had determined there was reasonable cause that discrimination had occurred, said Kimberley Taylor-Riley, commission director.
The commission added $4,500 to the fine and penalties recommended by a hearing officer, indicating they intended to send a message to Reinke about his behavior as a landlord.
"I'd like to make the message a little bit clearer to the respondent," said Commissioner Mary Reece, as commissioners talked about the penalty amounts.
The commission ordered the landlord to pay a $2,000 civil penalty and $3,985 in damages, partially to make up for Simeus' actual financial losses and part for his pain and suffering. They also ordered that Simeus did not have to pay around $1,340 to Reinke for an eviction related judgment.
The commission last year determined that there was reasonable cause discrimination had occurred. Then a hearing officer found that discrimination had occurred based on an early December public hearing.
Reinke was also involved in a Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission housing complaint that went to court in 2010.
In that Lancaster County Court case, state Attorney General Jon Bruning alleged Reinke discriminated against two Iraqi renters. Reinke denied the charges.
Last February, Bruning's office dropped that lawsuit and the case was dismissed. A spokesperson for the attorney general's office said the case was dismissed because of problems coordinating evidence and witnesses.
Reinke can appeal the commission's decision to district court.