Debate over renters’ rights in MPLS continues as ordinances head to a vote

The Minneapolis City Council will vote on the two policies Friday.

Illustrated+by+Morgan+La+Casse

Morgan La Casse

Illustrated by Morgan La Casse

Mohamed Ibrahim

As city legislation that bolsters renters’ rights is set for a vote, the debate between property owners and tenant advocates has continued to heat up.

Despite opposition from property owners citywide, two ordinances introduced to the Minneapolis City Council earlier this year to make housing more accessible for low-income residents are set to see a vote Friday. The pair of ordinances would limit security deposits and screening criteria like criminal and eviction history used by property owners. Experts say these policies, which would go into effect in June 2020, would significantly impact students and other renters.

If passed, the policies would join the city’s Renters First policy passed in March, which helps ensure tenants can report negligent landlords. The Minnesota Student Association also worked with local state lawmakers to help pass a bill last legislative session establishing renters’ protections. 

“It’ll improve the options for certain individuals who might be having trouble finding homes,” said Ward 2 City Council member and Housing Policy and Development Committee Chair Cam Gordon. 

At a public hearing at the council’s housing policy committee held Aug. 28, property owners spoke out against the policies, specifically the ordinance limiting screening based on criminal and eviction history.

Steven Schachtman, a Minneapolis property owner of more than 40 years, told council members at the hearing that background checks on applicants protect both the property and other tenants. He said the proposal would put landlords at risk of renting to individuals who pose a financial and safety liability to their property and neighborhood. 

“It’s vague, it’s inconsistent and it’s ill-conceived,” Schachtman said at the hearing. “One of the worst problems, in my opinion, is that [the ordinance] does nothing to stop bad landlords — it says it’s okay to not care about your rental properties or your renters.”

Andrea Palumbo, a housing attorney for Minneapolis nonprofit HOME Line, which provides free and low-cost legal services to renters, said property owners’ criticisms of the screening ordinance are unfounded. She said many of the prospective renters the ordinances aim to protect already live in the community and therefore don’t pose an increased threat to the property or neighborhood.

“[Landlords] want safe neighborhoods, they want safe buildings, but these are people who are already in our community,” Palumbo said. “It’s not like these are people who are coming out of nowhere — they’re already renting, they’re already working and paying taxes.” 

The second ordinance would give property owners the option to cap security deposits at one month’s rent or ask for first and last month’s rent, as well as half the security deposit. 

For students, high security deposits can be a barrier to securing housing. A cap on these costs would alleviate that issue, specifically for international students, said Bill Dane, an attorney with the University of Minnesota’s Student Legal Service. International students often don’t have a rental history or a guarantor who lives in the United States, which prompts landlords to ask for bigger deposits, he said.

“What we don’t want to see is that international students have a more difficult time renting because landlords can’t collect an adequate deposit,” Dane said. “There has to be a common sense limit.”