FORT THOMPSON, S.D. — Brenda and Douglas Dion are not the first people in South Dakota to be taken to court over late rent. But they are two of the first to do so with the federal government as their landlord.
After more than two years of allegedly staying in government housing without paying rent and nearly a year of living in a house without authorization from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Fort Thompson couple is being evicted and sued by the U.S. government for damages including more than $14,000 owed in back rent.
According to the federal complaint filed Jan. 15 by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellie J. Bailey, Brenda Dion was employed by the BIA from July 23, 1984, until her retirement in 2017. Beginning in October 1992, Dion was authorized to live in Unit 109, a two-bed, one-bath home built in 1939 that sits on a 40-acre plot of land on the Crow Creek Reservation purchased by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in 1954.
Unit 109 and other homes on that tract of land are maintained by the BIA to house federal employees, as housing available on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation is limited. Under her employment contract, Dion was allowed to live in Unit 109 with her husband, Douglas Dion, throughout her tenure as a federal employee at a cost of $514.05 in monthly rent, which was deducted from her paycheck.
Dion’s last day of work for the BIA was Sept. 29, 2017, after which she was given notice that her housing assignment would end on Oct. 24 of that year, but that she could continue to occupy Unit 109 for up to 60 days, barring extenuating circumstances.
Over the next two years, the BIA granted the Dions five extensions that varied in length from one to seven months, each intended to give them additional time to find other housing. The final license expired after Feb. 28, 2019.
“We issued the licenses to allow you time to find other housing based on your repeated assurances that you would move out,” Patrick Duffy, BIA superintendent for the Crow Creek Agency, wrote in Dion’s final eviction notice.
In September 2018, according to the complaint, Dion was reportedly told that arrangements had been made for her to rent or buy a home owned by the Crow Creek Housing Authority in Fort Thompson, but that she had not pursued those options.
In spring 2019, Dion was issued multiple eviction notices and told she was illegally occupying government quarters. In the fall, she was given another written notice telling her she would face eviction, and the U.S. Marshals Service served both Dions in November with notices to quit and vacate.
As of Jan. 15, when the complaint was filed, the Dions were still living in Unit 109. As of Dec. 31, they owed $14,240.29 in back rent.
The federal government’s lawsuit is asking a court to order the Dions to pay all back rent, leave the property and prohibit them from returning, authorizing U.S. Marshals to forcibly remove them and their property if necessary. It’s also requesting an order to require the Dions to reimburse the government for costs associated with the lawsuit and their removal, including any onsite supervision deemed to be necessary and hiring a locksmith to change the locks.
If the Dions don’t respond to the complaint within 21 days of Jan. 24, when they were served, the case will result in a default judgment in the government’s favor.
According to a search of federal court records back to February 1900, the Dions’ case is the second in South Dakota history in which the federal government has sued one or more people for failing to pay rent and leave a government-owned residence. The other case, which is still pending, was filed in April 2019 against a woman who had been employed at the Cheyenne River Health Center in Ziebach County.