Suburbs across Hennepin County are looking to give low-income tenants more time and resources to find somewhere else to live if they are displaced by a new landlord.
St. Louis Park was the first to pass what is being called a “tenant protection ordinance” earlier this year. Bloomington and Golden Valley passed similar laws last week, and neighboring cities such as Richfield are putting together measures of their own.
Elected officials see the policies as a way to quickly assist renters whose affordable housing goes upscale and as the first step toward giving them more protection.
Anne Mavity, a St. Louis Park City Council member and the executive director of Minnesota Housing Partnership, a nonprofit focused on affordable housing, said that tenant protection policies are “absolutely necessary” — but not enough.
“It gives [residents] time,” she said. “It doesn’t solve the problem of increased rents. It doesn’t solve the problem of screening criteria that may screen residents out.”
While the tenant protection ordinances vary slightly from city to city, their components are essentially the same.
If new owners of affordable housing properties raise rents, rescreen tenants or terminate leases without cause within the first 90 days of purchase, they must pay relocation assistance to displaced tenants as well as a penalty to the city.
New owners also have to provide written notice to tenants and the city letting them know that rents will be raised, tenants rescreened and leases terminated, and of the tenants’ right to relocation help.
The policies emerged from discussions among stakeholder groups in St. Louis Park, including tenant advocates and the Minnesota Multi Housing Association (MMHA), a nonprofit representing property owners and managers.
In a statement, the MMHA said that adding regulations can increase operating costs and therefore rents.
“It is critical that cities … work together to find consistent regional solutions, rather than adopting a patchwork of regulations that can be confusing and burdensome for tenants and property owners alike,” according to the statement.
A dozen cities — including St. Louis Park, Brooklyn Park, Minnetonka, Minneapolis and St. Paul — have continued to meet to discuss other possible changes. They include prohibiting landlords from refusing to rent to people using Section 8 vouchers, a measure that was passed in Minneapolis but struck down in Hennepin County District Court in June. Such renters typically pay a portion of their rent and use the voucher to make up the rest.
The Bloomington City Council took some additional steps, approving a new fair housing policy and announcing work on a comprehensive affordable housing ordinance for later this year.
“The council and the mayor recognize that this is just the beginning of the process,” said Eric Johnson, Bloomington’s community development director. “It’s not like this is the end for us.”
Mavity said it will take time to see if the new tenant protection policies improve housing issues for low-income renters in the suburbs.
“This puts a nice start to recognizing it as a challenge and really saying, ‘We’re going to start to tackle this,’ ” she said.
A protection policy might have helped Lisa Jones, who lived in Normandale Lake Estates in Bloomington but was forced to find another place to live one month after new landlords took over this year.
She had been in the same situation two years before in Richfield and knew she had to act fast. She and her family moved to another complex that was smaller but took her Section 8 vouchers.
“If you know from [the] start that you have 90 days, your mind is not all over the place,” she said. “Before you had to ask for it and you didn’t know if you were going to get it. It was super stressful.”
Though Jones is fine with her current apartment, she plans to move to a better place in the near future.
If she had had more time after being told to leave, she said, “I would’ve gotten something where I would’ve been for some years. But now I get to do to this all over again.”