The Minnesota Judicial Branch is suspending some housing court proceedings for the next two weeks, as part of their change in operations due to the coronavirus.
Starting March 16, housing court hearings for unpaid rent and unlawful detainers are among the proceedings suspended, according to a news release late Friday.
Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea said in a statement that “the prudent and temporary measures we are implementing balance public safety, the safety of people visiting courthouses, and the safety of our workforce.”
The news release said the courts are discouraging the public from unnecessary visits and encouraging using various technology to conduct hearings. All jury trials currently underway will continue until the trial is complete. Other cases for criminal court, family court, juvenile court and mental health commitment hearings will not be suspended because they’re deemed high priority proceedings.
Tenant advocates in Minnesota were urging the courts to delay eviction proceedings, both to spare people from losing their housing in the midst of a pandemic and reduce one other possible avenue of exposure.
In a letter earlier Friday, Luke Grundman, a managing attorney for housing with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, asked Hennepin County District Judge Ivy S. Bernhardson to halt all eviction court proceedings. He said the crowded security lines, elevators, hallways and courtrooms endanger people and failing to change the process “will kill people.”
“The court system should not force families to suffer the drastic consequences of eviction for families until government implements policies to address the inevitable economic and social consequences of the pandemic,” Grundman said.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office received calls asking that they temporarily stop removing tenants and their property from units, but it’s not a simple fix. Rob Allen, chief of staff for Hennepin Sheriff Dave Hutchinson, said part of the problem is that officers are legally required to help remove tenants from a home once directed to do so.
“In light of everything that’s going on all of our operation are going to be taxed for personnel,” Allen said. “I understand that has to be balanced with the right of property owners but if there’s a way to delay it to change the time frame ... that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The economic uncertainties of the pandemic have hourly workers fearing decreased pay and school closures have caused households to scramble for child care. Late or unpaid rent can lead to an eviction filing alone could also make it harder for residents to find new housing amid the crisis. Evictions often affect low-income households and people of color, according to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.
Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said in a news conference Friday that the council is speaking with partners to find “support for people facing eviction, hopefully stop these evictions in Minneapolis and hopefully across the state” amid coronavirus concerns.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.