Bedbug infestations, rent increases and fights for security deposits are some of the problems tenant advocates say confront Minneapolis renters, who make up about half of the households in the city. Starting Tuesday, those renters will have an additional resource to turn to for help.
HOME Line, a nonprofit that offers legal advice to tenants across the state, is expanding its free services to Minneapolis for the first time.
Founded in 1992, it's expanded from suburban Hennepin County to other areas lacking such services, including outstate Minnesota in 2001 and St. Paul in 2006. During the past year, nearly 12,000 renters statewide called the organization. "The whole state could use our services," said executive director Beth Kodluboy. "There's not a county in Minnesota that hasn't called us."
The organization has already seen a lot of demand from Minneapolis, and is expecting between 3,000 and 5,000 calls from tenants there in the next year. A few factors prevented the organization from expanding to Minneapolis sooner. For a while, Minneapolis Housing Services did similar work, though with only two staff members. Kodluboy said HOME Line received between 15 and 20 calls per day from frustrated Minneapolis tenants who couldn't reach the Housing Services line.
When Housing Services was cut in 2011, HOME Line didn't have the resources to handle the additional calls, but did offer consulting services to Minneapolis residents for a fee — $25 for a 15-minute legal consultation.
"It's been frustrating for us," Kodluboy said, "because a lot of us live in Minneapolis and we know the need here."
Ross Joy, lead organizer at the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, said having HOME Line as a resource has helped him with his tenant-organizing work.
"I really think the hardest part for me in organizing is knowing what works ... and what doesn't, so having that legal expertise is really helpful," he said.
Karin Todd, a HOME Line board member and University of Minnesota graduate, said she had two incidents as a student renter when her landlord didn't return her security deposit. She was eventually able to get them back, using HOME Line templates explaining the legal requirements for returning deposits. "It's just a really good tool for both the landlord to know that you know your rights, but also for them to know that OK, this person has some negotiating power," she said.
With the expansion, HOME Line's services will be available to a large population of student renters. Todd said the organization is aware of renting issues often specific to students, such as poorly maintained properties and slow response times on maintenance issues.
The expansion, funded by $25,000 from the Family Housing Fund and $100,000 from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, will include up to three new employees and additional time from volunteers. In addition, HOME Line is planning to add Spanish- and Somali-speaking employees this spring. "We think we're missing out on some of the most vulnerable populations," Kodluboy said.
Serving a diverse population is part of the organization's mission, Todd said. Renters navigating a language barrier may not be aware of their rights or the requirements of their lease.
Emma Nelson is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.