One landlord tried to kick a family with a 4-year-old girl out of their home over unpaid rent. A mobile home resident could not flush his toilet because the landlord cut his water off. Another landlord refused to supply the propane needed to heat his tenant’s home in March and April.
Those were among the most serious of the more than 400 tenant complaints the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has fielded since the state’s eviction moratorium went into effect in March.
As the coronavirus pandemic began to hit the state, Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order that halted evictions for renters and homeowners facing foreclosure. The goal was to prevent thousands of Minnesotans from losing their housing as federal and state officials urged social distancing and staying at home.
Since then, Attorney General Keith Ellison has enforced the order as tenants and landlords deal with the economic and emotional fallout caused by the pandemic.
According to Ellison’s office, nearly half of the complaints are from tenants who cannot pay their rent because of income loss and their landlords have told them to pay or move out, a violation of the moratorium.
Another quarter are complaints about landlords still wanting a tenant to leave after a lease had ended, even though tenants can’t move because they’ve lost income or can’t find a new home.
A quarter of the complaints involve landlords providing inaccurate information about how the eviction moratorium works, including some landlords telling tenants that they’re only protected if they were directly affected by COVID-19 and can prove it.
Ellison said in an interview that most of the complaints were remedied with a call from his office educating property owners about the executive order. But he was “a little shocked” that his office had received that many complaints of tenants being “under threat to be tossed out of their homes at a moment when it was least healthy for them.”
“I believe that most landlords will do the right thing when they know what the requirements are,” he said. “We do have this challenge of getting the word out more and we’re exploring ways to do that.”
He said “not knowing can be forgiven,” but pointed out there are some property owners who willfully disregard the order. The attorney general has taken enforcement action against four landlords so far for more egregious violations, such as cutting off utilities and trying to force tenants to leave.
In one instance, a tenant at a mobile home in Meeker County had his water shut off three times by his landlord because he had trouble paying his bills. The landlord allegedly said “let’s see how uncomfortable he is when he spends a few days without water,” according to the attorney general’s news release.
Ellison’s office filed a legal action against the landlord and they reached a settlement.
The tenant’s water was turned back on.