The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Minneapolis can enforce its ordinance prohibiting landlords from discriminating against tenants receiving federal rent assistance.

The ruling means the city will once again prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to holders of Section 8 housing vouchers. The ordinance, passed in 2017, was tossed out by a Hennepin County judge last year.

"Because increasing housing opportunities for voucher holders is a plausible public purpose, and because the city identified increasing housing opportunities for voucher holders ... the district court erred in not considering whether the amended ordinance rationally serves that public purpose," Court of Appeals Judge Jeanne Cochran wrote for a three-judge panel.

The ordinance is another part of an ongoing battle between the Minneapolis City Council and landlords over how to make it easier for residents to find affordable housing. City officials have aimed to strengthen protections with renter rights, even proposing sweeping changes to how tenant screenings would work.

Landlords defiant

Landlords have protested the council's increased restrictions, arguing that it's a way to demonize property owners, raise costs and make it harder for them to choose their tenants.

After the ordinance passed in 2017, 55 apartment owners sued to stop it, and landlords continued to list properties with the warning, "No Section 8." They successfully argued that the ordinance would be an "undue hardship" after a discrimination claim was filed with the city's Civil Rights Department.

Currently, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority administers the vouchers to nearly 3,900 tenants.

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said her office has to communicate with the Department of Civil Rights about when enforcement could begin. She said she was "pleased but not surprised" by the appellate court ruling.

"We're really pleased with the outcome and had confidence that it was a proper ordinance," Segal said.

Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman said they worked for years to get ample public feedback, leading to a streamlined inspection process for landlords and a fund that would insure against any property damage caused by Section 8 tenants.

"We're a city that is not accepting of discrimination in all of its forms. ... Winning this feels like winning a discrimination case, and that's what makes it such a big deal to me," Goodman said. "People's lives will actually be changed."

Tom Fletcher, chief manager of Fletcher Management, the plaintiff in the case, said he read the ruling but has not fully processed it yet. While no decisions have been made, he said he "would not be surprised to see us appealing" the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The high court would have to decide whether it wants to hear the case.

"My gut reaction is I don't think the whole process is over," Fletcher said.

The ruling also comes two days before the Metropolitan Council's Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Minneapolis Public Housing Authority and St. Paul Public Housing Agency are slated to open their Section 8 housing vouchers waiting lists for the first time in years.

Starting Wednesday and continuing through June 18, thousands of residents across the Twin Cities are expected to apply online.

Only 7,500 of those people, chosen by lottery, will get on the list.