Minnesota lawmakers remain deadlocked over how to end the state's eviction moratorium, with Republican legislators saying the longer they take to strike a deal, the less need there is for an off-ramp from the pandemic-related pause.
Housing advocates and Democratic legislators held a news conference Wednesday to stress that an orderly end to the halt on evictions is critical to prevent homelessness and minimize problems for landlords.
"The eviction suspension has helped save lives, thousands of lives, during a global public health emergency. That emergency is potentially coming to an end here, but the financial fallout, the economic fallout, is not," said Home Line Executive Director Eric Hauge. He said people are anxiously waiting to see if Minnesota extends the eviction moratorium as they wait for the state to distribute $672 million in federal housing assistance.
Negotiations over the moratorium off-ramp and the state's next housing budget bill have been rocky leading up to the special session expected to start Monday. Legislators in the DFL-controlled House and the Senate's Republican majority have rejected policy measures in offers from the other side.
Republicans have opposed DFL efforts to require landlords to provide advance eviction notices and to allow certain evictions to be expunged from someone's record. The latest House negotiating offer, sent last Friday, suggested a pre-eviction notice of 14 days and would allow expungement of evictions that occurred because of nonpayment of rent and that were done in violation of the off-ramp.
Democrats, meanwhile, said the GOP inserted a "poison pill" in its offer last week by attempting to block local governments from imposing rent control, which Minneapolis and St. Paul are considering. But Senate Republicans sent a new proposal Wednesday morning that removed the idea and instead suggested that both sides leave out any new policies.
Nonetheless, Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield, called the latest Senate GOP offer a "my way or the highway position." He stressed that the eviction notice is crucial for renters.
Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, countered that the notification requirement is unnecessary and would further burden the court system.
"I don't know of a landlord that doesn't give notice on rent being past due or that they will be evicted," Draheim said. "When the courts have been shut down and not really functioning to its fullest already, and then we're going to change how things are done? At this late stage?"
Howard said just a handful of issues stand in the way of an agreement, and if negotiators were to gather in a room together, they could knock out a deal in hours. The offers legislators have been trading — although fraught with some spending and policy disagreements — have also included concessions from both sides.
However, Draheim said Tuesday afternoon that if they can't get a deal in time for the special session, he's not sure that a phaseout of the moratorium is needed at all.
"If we don't do it on Monday, we're not going to do it, most likely, in my opinion. There are 30-some states that have already blinked theirs off, so why do we need to have an off-ramp if most states aren't having an off-ramp? I think that every day we wait and they stall, the less chance we are of having an off-ramp," he said.
Gov. Tim Walz imposed the eviction suspension at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's one of the few major executive orders still in place. Eviction moratorium negotiations are further complicated by some legislators' desire to put an immediate end to Walz's emergency powers and his executive orders.
Last week, Republican senators negotiating the housing bill sent House Democrats an offer that said they were comfortable "waiting for the courts to resolve pending litigation regarding the moratorium, thus the Senate is not interested in further movement."
Landlords sued Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison in U.S. District Court in Minnesota in September in an effort to end the eviction moratorium executive order. The court dismissed the case in December and denied landlords' request for an injunction, but the landlords appealed. Draheim said another suit could be filed soon.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044