City looks to bolster renter protections

The proposed Renter-First Policy aims to change dynamics between City inspectors, landlords and tenants.

Illustrated by Abby Adamski

Image by Abby Adamski

Illustrated by Abby Adamski

by Emma Dill

A proposed Minneapolis City Council policy discussed last week aims to change future City guidelines to be more centered on students and other renters. 

The Renter-First Policy lays out a framework for future City policies that would strengthen disciplinary measures for negligent landlords and make property information easier to access for renters and landlords. Ward 3 City Council member Steve Fletcher drew upon his own experiences living in student housing at the University of Minnesota when examining the policy. 

Fletcher subleased at a Dinkytown property even though his leasing contract prohibited subleases. The lease violation prevented Fletcher from contacting City inspectors to force their landlord to make repairs.

“We knew there were major dangerous fire violations happening in our house and we had to decide: Do we give up our cheap rent or fix this situation?” he said.

Ward 2 City Council member Cam Gordon said the policy aims to change the culture of fear that often discourages interactions between tenants and the City.

“We end up seeing [among] tenants and landlords … there’s a sort of a culture, a history of being afraid to enter into any kind of work with the City because there might be some consequences they didn’t want,” Gordon said. 

Some concerns still surround landlord accountability around campus. At a Feb. 28 Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association meeting, local renters voiced concerns about their landlords’ responsiveness to security and management issues. 

The policy was developed over the past several months by the City’s Regulatory Services Department. It aims to guide interactions between landlords, tenants and the City across all departments, said Kim Keller, interim director of regulatory services.

“We really want to make sure that this policy doesn’t show up as a silo in one department, but that it’s an approach that is infused throughout the city government,” Keller said.

Fletcher, a former housing advocate, said the Renter-First Policy will set new precedents within the Regulatory Services Department by providing renters with more information about City inspections and other management requirements.

“Even if a tenant complained, our inspectors would go to a property, talk to a landlord about what repairs they needed to do. They would speak in a very technical way … and not necessarily ever ask the tenant if the solutions they were talking about would fix their problem,” Fletcher said. “Tenants were really getting left out of the equation in our enforcement and as a result our enforcement wasn’t really meeting people’s needs.”

While most landlords comply with City requirements, Keller said the new policy aims to put more pressure on negligent landlords to improve their properties and respond to tenant concerns.

The policy also acknowledges low-income people, like students, are often the most vulnerable renters. Keller said she hopes the policy will help make all renters feel like they are valued parts of the City.

“I hope that the policy makes it clear that the City views people who rent their homes and rental properties as community assets,” Keller said.

The City Council will consider the policy at their meeting Friday.