The state of renters’ rights in Minneapolis

Many statewide and citywide policies are underway to protect tenants from predatory landlords.

Illustrated by Hailee Schievelbein

Illustrated by Hailee Schievelbein

J.D. Duggan

Amid the tight Minneapolis housing market, City Council members and state lawmakers seek to balance the power dynamic between renters and landlords.

A variety of citywide renter protection policies have passed since 2017, and the Minnesota Student Association pushed a bill recently passed by the Legislature to advocate for student renters. But city draft ordinances currently under consideration — which aim to protect prospective renters by limiting security deposits, rental history checks and background checks — have drawn some concern from property owners.

“It’s just really important to have policies in place that … give students the resources to be informed in making those decisions, but also to kind of limit problematic and predatory behaviors from landlords,” said Jude Goossens, MSA’s director of government and legislative affairs. He also said poor renting situations are an “iconic college experience.”

The MSA bill passed in May, authored by Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, promotes transparency in leases for renters throughout the state.

At the city level, many ordinances in recent years promote transparency and inhibit discrimination based on housing status. Ward 3 Council member Steve Fletcher said these policies are especially important in a tight housing market.

If passed, currently discussed ordinances would cap security deposits and a landlord’s ability to look at a prospective renter’s criminal record or dismissed evictions. Fletcher said without tenant protections, housing is less accessible to low-income renters or those with poor credit scores.

“If landlords are using screening methods that reinforce structural racism, then we end up with a housing system that is structurally racist,” Fletcher said.

However, some property owners are concerned about tight policy restrictions. Nichol Beckstrand, president of property owner advocacy group Minnesota Multi Housing Association, said security deposits are a tool for landlords to protect themselves and background checks can mitigate insurance costs.

“When somebody is on the border of being accepted into a property, maybe they don’t meet the income standard, or they’ve got some flaws in their credit history that show that they have a difficult time making payments,” Beckstrand said. “But maybe they’re on a path of reform. The security deposit is a tool that property owners can use to create some flexibility.”

Owen Duckworth, director of organizing and policy for The Alliance, a housing advocacy organization focused on racial justice, said security deposits are a significant barrier for finding affordable housing. He said this can be especially prevalent for vulnerable populations, and that students may be taken advantage of.

Strict policies may discourage local property owners and encourage them to sell, Beckstrand said. In this case, buildings go to the highest bidder — which she said are often national firms with little day-to-day presence in the community.

“That national presence here is dangerous for the state, and for the state of housing,” she said.

She hopes the city would better target problematic property owners, punishing them individually rather than creating overarching policies that “end up hurting the good people that are in the market that are providing a good product and service.”

This practice has been enacted with MSA’s Break Up with Your Landlord campaign, which lists problematic landlords around campus and offers resources for navigating housing.

Duckworth said looser restrictions won’t necessarily increase the supply of affordable housing, saying that “trickle-down affordable housing” does not decrease the housing costs within neighborhoods. And while some property owners said they would no longer build in Minneapolis, Fletcher said they often come back.

“At some point, you have to say maybe this is an empty threat. It turns out people want to build in cities, because that’s where all the people and activity and opportunity is,” Fletcher said.