Minneapolis City Council members introduced early framework Monday night for an ordinance that would give renters more protections from rapidly rising rents, sudden evictions and predatory landlords.

At Farview Park in north Minneapolis, Council President Lisa Bender and Council Member Jeremiah Ellison told residents about their plans for creating a “renters’ bill of rights,” and listened to ideas about what it should include.

Calling out problem landlords by name, Ellison said it’s been left to renters and activists to fight for tenants rights for far too long. He said it’s “our responsibility and our time to step up” and collaborate with them.

As home prices and rents rise in Minneapolis, questions of how to maintain and create affordable housing in the city have come to the forefront of political debate.

The city recently finished the 100-day process of gathering public comment on the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan — a blueprint for the future that, among other recommendations, seeks to rezone the city to allow for more multiunit housing. Mayor Jacob Frey has said he wants to add $50 million to the city’s budget for affordable housing projects. And the city has taken a sterner line in revoking licenses against perennially problematic landlords.

Bender said she and her colleagues plan to spend the next few months shaping the bill of rights into ordinance language by talking to community members, and will introduce it to the council officially later this year or in early 2019.

“One of the most consistent things I’ve heard increasingly over the years I’ve been on the City Council is concern from renters about being able to find an affordable place to live to be in quality housing and to stay in an apartment, especially with rising rents,” she said.

An early outline of the proposal includes capping security deposits, limiting how far property owners can look back in a prospective tenant’s eviction history and defining specifically for what reasons a landlord can evict a renter. It also looks at establishing a relocation benefit fee for renters who are forced to move, mandating that landlords give tenants a written notification of how much money they owe in order to avoid eviction and creating certain situations in which a tenant could terminate the lease early.

At the meeting, Bender, citing city data, said Minneapolis’ vacancy rate is 2 percent — considerably lower than the national average of 7 percent. In turn, the cost of rent in the city has increased 17 percent since 2010. And a small share of landlords — 14 percent — owns 80 percent of rental units in the city.

A 2016 city study found that low-income and minority tenants disproportionately face evictions that lead to long-term housing instability. The vast majority come from nonpayment of rent.

In many cases, the tenants were two months and less than $2,000 behind on their payments.

Bender said the council is also exploring ways to provide more legal services to low-income renters, and to re-prioritize housing inspections into a tiered system that directs city resources first to the properties that need them most.

“I want you to know that we hear you, and are here to work together with you to do what we can to make this better,” Bender said.

“We have some ideas to share tonight and want to work hand-in-hand with our constituents and folks across the city to head off a complete housing crisis in Minneapolis, like the kind we are seeing in other cities around the country.”

 

Correction: An earlier version inaccurately stated the vacancy rate in Minneapolis.