It is one more consequence of the foreclosure crisis and shaky property market.
Increasing numbers of vacant homes and poorly kept properties in metro-area cities mean more illegal activity and more temptation to become irresponsible landlords. In addition, the awful market for home sales is pushing owners into the rental business, causing some to skirt rental-property rules.
That creates a tough balancing act for metro-area cities. With more empty buildings and other properties falling behind on payments and taxes, cities have less revenue from property taxes. At the same time, they must spend more to deal with police calls, increased monitoring and other expenses brought on by more vacant and poorly maintained houses.
Understanding the challenges of the tough economy, cities rightly try to be understanding toward property owners while protecting public safety and renter's rights. As cities develop plans to cope, they should be careful to consider individual circumstances, protect safety and security, and help owners and renters connect with services that offer assistance.
In Little Canada, for example, where about half of 10,000 residents live in rental housing, city officials are seeing more of what they call "accidental'' landlords -- owners who suddenly have a single-family home to rent but may not have properly set up the house for rental. Unprepared landlords might make the mistake of allowing too many people in a home, leading to parking, noise and overcrowding problems. So Little Canada is considering an ordinance that would require property owners to hire an inspector to examine their units more often.
Brooklyn Park and New Hope, meanwhile, are charging fees to homeowners who convert houses to rental units. St. Louis Park requires landlords to evict tenants who deal drugs or commit violent crimes.
More than 20,000 homes and other buildings in Minnesota went through foreclosure in 2008, attracting some thieves and vandals but also people just looking for shelter. While it may seem kind to allow homeless people to live in an abandoned property, it is not safe to be in a building without utilities.
In Minneapolis, from the beginning of 2007 to June 2008, nearly 5,000 properties went through foreclosure. A new problem is beginning to emerge: Some property owners are setting up contracts for deeds, knowing that their renters will never be able to complete the contract. That, officials say, is a way to avoid the expense of a rental license and sidestep housing codes.
In St. Paul, officials have stepped up monitoring of vacant homes because of increasing squatter activity. The city is spending about $2.3 million a year to take care of empty buildings. At the same time, St. Paul has adopted an ordinance intended to strengthen state law and punish landlords who don't notify tenants of a foreclosure in process.
Dealing with added labor-intensive foreclosure-related duties is even more challenging for cities already under the financial strains of reduced tax bases and looming state cuts.
Still, cities must move ahead with ordinance changes and other governance tools to handle foreclosure-related problems in the interest of safety, owners' and renters' rights and setting the stage to rebuild neighborhoods.