USA - Maine man was evicted from apartment after refusing to remove mezuzah

A mezuzah. Photo: Noam Chen
Israeli Ministry of Tourism/Flickr
Winthrop, ME - An investigator has recommended to the Maine Human Rights Commission that it find reasonable grounds to believe a Winthrop couple discriminated against a former tenant based on religion.

Mark Fortin and Michelle Fortin evicted the man, who is Black and Jewish, from the apartment they own on Metcalf Road in Winthrop in March after demanding he remove a mezuzah from his front door, according to a report to the commission.

A mezuzah is a piece of parchment inscribed with Hebrew verses from the Torah, and encased in a small, decorative case.

The tenant had lived in the apartment since June 2020, and placed the mezuzah on his apartment door in February 2021. The owners demanded he remove it two months later, according to an Aug. 18 report filed by the investigator.

When the tenant refused, telling the Fortins the mezuzah is a symbol of his faith, the Fortins served him with a breach of lease, terminated his lease, and, during a final walkthrough of the apartment, called the police to monitor him, according to the report.

Responding to the complaint, the Fortins said they terminated the man's lease because he screwed a metal object into a doorframe in violation of his lease, and refused repeated requests to remove a trailer they allowed him to park on the property temporarily. They said that when he finally moved it in March, he caused significant damage to the property.

But the investigator found the owners instead asked the man to move his trailer weeks after telling him his lease would not be renewed and said they refused an offer by the tenant, "an experienced landscaper", to fix the damage at no cost.

During a brief phone call Wednesday, Michelle Fortin disputed the report and denied there had been any eviction, before declining to comment further.

The Maine Human Rights Commission is scheduled to consider the finding at its meeting on Nov. 8, 2021.