FARGO — A Fargo woman says she faced racial discrimination when she expressed interest in a Moorhead rental property last week, and because of a government shutdown, a complaint to federal authorities may take longer to process.
Sewon Hwang, a WDAY employee, was looking online for a place to live Friday, Jan. 11. She identified a condo in Moorhead, but when she called the landlord, he asked if she was Asian.
"I knew something was fishy," Hwang said. "I knew something was wrong, so I kind of hesitated to answer."
She said the landlord then told her he wasn't trying to be "rude" or "racist," and then told her why he asked about her racial background.
"He basically said that I wasn't suitable because of the fact that I am Asian and I 'cook a lot of smelly foods,'" Hwang recalled. "He hung up on me, and that was the entire interaction."
Hwang said what the landlord told her made little sense. "The most cooked item in my apartment is PB and Js," she said.
She said while Fargo is mostly welcoming, she occasionally runs into situations like these. It's the first time she felt discrimination from a landlord.
Landlord Ken Murack doesn't deny asking Hwang about her ethnicity or making comments about Asian food.
"I guess it was probably a stupid thing to tell her, but I asked her," Murack said.
"I'm certainly not against her Asian background or anything else," he added. "I've had a lot of people living there. Asians, Hispanics, blacks."
Murack said he's a 78-year-old man who's been in the rental business for 53 years, and that he's had tenants who've wanted to move out because of cooking from neighbors.
"I was a Vietnam vet, I'm not talking out of stupidity here," he said. "Some of the spices they use in Asia are kind of ... hard to get used to."
Hwang wants to file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but the agency said it will be a while before they can process her complaint because of the government shutdown.
Upon visiting the department's website, you're greeted with a giant red wall with text saying their offices are closed.
WDAY News called both their Fargo and Washington D.C. offices for comment. No one could answer and no one called back.