Major changes advance for U-area renters

A new Minneapolis ordinance gives city inspectors an easier time revoking a landlord’s license for repeat violations.

by Hank Long

The Minneapolis City Council passed a housing ordinance change Friday allowing city housing inspectors to revoke the rental license of any landlord who knowingly acquires repeat violations to the same property.

Council member Paul Zerby, 2nd Ward, who represents the University area and sponsored the change, said it aims to solve the problem of substandard housing throughout the city. The ordinance change passed 10-1 with two abstentions.

Jason Klohs, who owns nine properties near the University and is the University Concerned Landlords Association president, said he worries the change does not give landlords due process.

“If an inspector comes back and cites a property for the same violation that I didn’t know about, I don’t even have time to comply.” Klohs said. “They can just shut me down right then and there.”

Under the ordinance’s old meaning, once there is a violation for a property, the city gives the landlord time to fix the problem. If the owner fixes the problem and the city cites him or her for the same violation in the future, the owner would have another period to comply.

With the change, Minneapolis Housing Inspections deputy director JoAnn Velde said, “We will no longer have to keep returning to the properties of owners who knowingly violate the same standard over and over.”

Velde said inspectors would not revoke a property’s rental license for minor code violations. Instead, she said, the city would only revoke a landlord’s license for a property that knowingly violates standards for rental housing, such as knowingly having over-occupied units.

Zerby said repeat violations by the same owners drain city and inspection department resources.

Council member Dean Zimmerman, 6th Ward, who was the lone dissenter in the vote, said he thought the change was too severe and not in the spirit of working with the landlords.

Zimmerman wanted to postpone the ordinance change so the city and landlord organizations could work together for a better solution.

Patrick Burns, an attorney who represents Klohs and more than 30 other landlords and 3,000 units in neighborhoods near the University for the University Concerned Landlords Association, was at the meeting and said the change will only hurt student renters.

Burns said owners subject to the new change will have to pay attorneys fees and city fines and must spend more time away from their properties to fight revocation.

“It just makes everything more expensive for the owners,” Burns said. “And who gets hurt by this? The tenants.”

Klohs said he hopes the change will only target the landlords who are “chronically bad landlords.”