Delinquent landlords restricted

Come January, landlords will lose licenses for withholding settlement payments.

Joy Petersen

Come January, delinquent landlords unwilling to pay settlements to renters are in for a change.

A new addition to Minneapolis’ ordinance on landlord licenses, which will go into effect Jan. 1, will require landlords with unsettled lawsuits to pay renters or have their landlord licenses revoked.

The ordinance will be changed due to complaints filed with Ward 2 councilman Cam Gordon, who worked on the amendment.

“We did that recently in response to complaints where students would try to get their damage deposits back and win their case in courts but the landlord just would not pay,” Gordon said.

A renter might file a lawsuit against a landlord for withholding a security deposit or failure to fix problems with the property.

The ordinance will ideally allow residents to collect their settlements after 20 to 30 days of their judgments, depending on the type of case they file.

If a license is revoked, the landlord may reapply after they have paid all settlements. During the time of revocation, the residence must be vacated until a new license is granted, according to the city of Minneapolis code of ordinances.

There is no set time period in which the landlord may reapply, Gordon said, but the landlord has to fix the problems before he can do so.

For landlords reapplying for the same property in which their licenses have been revoked, an additional $1,000 charge will be added to their licensing fees.

Gordon said the courts are unable to arrest delinquent landlords, but could locate other assets to pay settlements to renters.

Bill Dane, a University Student Legal Service staff attorney, said most lawsuits, which cost $55 to file, are tried in conciliation courts, which try civil cases with settlements less than $7,500.

Typically, the cases are tried for between $2,000 and $4,000, he said.

While many landlords do pay settlements, Dane said the enforcement might be difficult for those who do not.

“The process can take months – sometimes even years – to collect a judgment, depending on how quickly you can locate assets,” Dane said.

Chris Bjorling, an accounting and international business junior, was on the verge of suing his landlord for withholding his security deposit after he moved out of his residence.

“They had a fairly detailed breakdown of what was taken out of the security deposit, but a lot of them were things we already had taken care of,” Bjorling said. “It was sloppy management on their part.”

After six weeks, Bjorling received his security deposit and decided not to sue.

“The thing that worried me most was he refused to talk to me face to face,” he said. “He would only accept things through the mail.”

Renter and landlord relationships are best when both parties communicate, campus area landlord Jason Klohs said.

Klohs, who supports the ordinance amendment, said students who follow their lease agreements should be paid if their settlement is won.

“Everyone signs a lease,” he said. “When we run into small issues, I say look at the lease. It’s the rules. We both abide by them.”

James De Sota, neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said he questions the enforcement of the new ordinance but thinks it’s important to the community.

SECIA receives many complaints when it comes to housing, he said. The main concern is for the community’s housing safety, including open wiring, fallen plaster and carbon monoxide.

“Actually having (the ordinance) enforced will hopefully have others come forward in the future when they do have valid complaints,” De Sota said.