(December 16, 2021 / JNS) The Maine Human Rights Commission voted unanimously on Monday that a couple discriminated against their former tenant based on his Jewish religion, reported News Center Maine.
In March, Mark and Michelle Fortin evicted Yohannis Selassie, who is black and Jewish, from an apartment they own in Winthrop after the latter refused their demands to remove a mezuzah from his doorpost, according to a report filed by an investigator and submitted to the commission.
When Selassie refused to take down the mezuzah, telling the Fortins that it is a symbol of his Jewish faith, the landlords terminated his lease and asked police to monitor him during a final walkthrough of the apartment, the report stated.
The Fortins claimed they terminated Selassie’s lease because he screwed a metal object into the doorframe, which is in violation of his lease, and refused repeated requests to remove a trailer they allowed him to temporarily park on their property. They added that Selassie then damaged the property when he eventually moved the trailer in March.
“The mezuzah and the damage to the doorframe is truly trivial,” said commissioner Edward David on Monday. “I agree that that became part of the motivation and that they … thought that that confirmed their ability to end this tenancy by saying, ‘Oh, that’s another violation, and you should be out immediately,’ and that—the motivation for doing that—was an impermissible basis on religion.”
The commission will try to have Selassie and the Fortins resolve the incident through a reconciliation outside of court, said executive director Amy Sneirson. If an agreement is not reached, Selassie can sue in superior court.
In October, Michelle Fortin denied to News Center Maine that an eviction had occurred.
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