FARGO — When one of Carlos Clark's friends tested positive for COVID-19, he tried to do the right thing. He called management at the complex where he lives, Bridges Student Apartments, and alerted them.

About 20 minutes later on April 16, he and his roommates say management sealed off the only door to their apartment using a plastic tarp with a long zipper.

“My dogs started barking at the front door, and I went to check it out and found them starting to put up the tarp on my door,” said Clark, who captured video of the tarp being installed. “I had no clue whatsoever. When they tried barricading us in our unit, they told us specifically that my dogs had to (defecate) in our unit."

Clark said management told him and his roommates not to leave the apartment and if they did, they would face a fine of an unknown amount. The roommates took down the tarp shortly after management installed it, Clark said.

A spokesperson for the apartment complex declined to comment on the situation.

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Clark said an eviction notice came after he lost his job helping people with disabilities, and he couldn’t pay rent on time. He said he later paid his rent, which is about $600 a month.

Management told the roommates in an April 25 email that the “zip door was put on there for safety precautions against the virus and since there has been multiple positive cases that has been in the unit we will take every precaution to protect everyone including yourself in the building.

“This is a deadly virus and we have a duty to protect and provide a safe environment. If you are refusing to quarantine, then we will document that and require that when out of your unit you are in complete protective gear…. If you are found positive with the virus you will need to stay in your unit and quarantine.”

In reply, the roommates wrote: “Law enforcement and public health agree that you overstepped your bounds in putting up the barrier. I understand your logic, but it was not a wise or legal course of action.”

Apartment management put up a plastic tarp with a long zipper in Carlos Clark's doorway to seal off his unit on April 16. Special to The Forum
Apartment management put up a plastic tarp with a long zipper in Carlos Clark's doorway to seal off his unit on April 16. Special to The Forum

All three people living in the apartment later tested negative for COVID-19, but underwent self-isolation for 14 days with guidance from the North Dakota Department of Health.

The case at the Bridges Student Apartments, 1601 N. University Drive in Fargo, is one of a number of housing discrimination cases that have been reported to the High Plains Fair Housing Center in Grand Forks.

A man in Mandan can’t get his refrigerator fixed unless he gets tested for COVID-19. Landlords and real estate agents are entering and viewing units without warning, and one landlord refused to rent to someone because they worked at Walmart, said Michelle Rydz, the center's executive director.

Although North Dakota law says landlords have the right not to rent to someone considered a threat, Rydz said: “You can’t kick someone out because they're sick, and you can’t lock them into their apartment. That’s a civil liberties issue."

Dane DeKrey, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota, used to be a federal public defender. When he heard about Clark’s situation, he reached out to other attorneys.

“The general consensus that I heard from prosecutors across the board is that a landlord has no authority to hold anyone inside their apartment,” DeKrey said.

The Forum reached out to the North Dakota Apartment Association, but a representative declined to comment, saying the organization is not a state agency and has no regulatory authority.

Clark said he and his roommates aren’t sure if they will file formal complaints as they plan on moving when their lease ends at the end of July.

“We’ll see how the next two and a half months go,” he said.