- Associated Press - Friday, February 12, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A white Lincoln landlord has been slow to respond to all of his tenants, regardless of their race and nationality, the Nebraska Supreme Court said Friday in a ruling reversing a housing discrimination order.

Lionel Simeus, a native of Haiti, accused Ryan Reinke of discrimination for failing to make timely repairs, entering Simeus’ apartment without notice while he was sleeping, turning off his power, ignoring his calls and refusing to speak to the tenant face to face.

Simeus said Reinke told him: “I don’t want to deal with you foreigners.”

The Lincoln Commission on Human Rights found in favor of Simeus and ordered the landlord’s company, RGR Co., to pay a civil penalty of $2,000, Simeus’ $100 moving costs, return his $385 security deposit and pay the tenant $3,500 for pain and suffering. A Lancaster County District Court upheld the commission’s order in late 2014.

But Reinke argued he has many tenants needing repairs, that he often enters tenants’ apartments without notice and that he did not cause the power to Simeus’ apartment to be cut. He denied saying he didn’t want to deal with foreigners, and asserted he only rolled up his car window as Simeus tried to speak to him because he was on a cellphone call.

“Given the totality of the evidence contained in the record … we determine that the commission did not prove that RGR’s proffered reasons were false, nor did the commission prove that discrimination was RGR’s real reason for its actions,” Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman wrote for the high court on Friday.

Reinke’s attorney, Melanie Whittamore-Mantzios, said Friday that Simeus was a difficult tenant and that Reinke never discriminated against him. She also takes issue with the perception that Reinke treats his tenants poorly.

“I would say that he’s got a lot to do. He tries his best,” she said.

Lincoln City Attorney Jeffery Kirkpatrick said he felt his office had presented sufficient proof of discrimination by Reinke.

“Frankly, if we thought that this was just a slum lord who treats everyone poorly, we wouldn’t have brought the case,” Kirkpatrick said.

Reinke was cited by the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission in a 2010 complaint accusing him of discriminating against two Iraqi renters. That lawsuit was dismissed in 2013 because of problems coordinating evidence and witnesses.

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This story has been corrected to show the tenant’s last name is Simeus, not Siemens.

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