A federal judge on Monday ordered the city of St. Paul to stop enforcing a new tenant protection ordinance, writing that the city's limits on background screening of potential renters are likely unconstitutional.

A group of 18 landlords filed a lawsuit in February arguing that the policy, which took effect March 1, violates their speech, due process and property rights.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson granted an injunction requiring St. Paul to halt enforcement of the ordinance while litigation is ongoing. In the order, he wrote that it is likely the landlords will win the case.

The ordinance, which was adopted unanimously by the St. Paul City Council in July, implemented new tenant screening guidelines that limit how landlords use an individual's prior evictions, credit scores or criminal history records to vet potential renters.

"While we are disappointed that this means the status quo will persist as this process plays out, the city will continue our efforts to respond to the many impacts of this enduring housing crisis in our community," St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson said in a statement Monday.

The city and tenant rights advocates championed the policy as a means of helping prospective renters find housing, even if they have had trouble in the past. Landlords argued the measure could put other tenants in harm's way and increase their risk of having to deal with property damage, unpaid rent and court fees.

Agreeing with attorneys for the landlords, Magnuson wrote that the ordinance violates the Fifth Amendment, which prevents the government from taking property without fair compensation. The policy "comes at a heavy cost" to landlords by limiting screening criteria and requiring landlords to renew leases in perpetuity unless they can prove a tenant has violated his or her rental agreement, the judge wrote.

Attorneys for the landlords also said that the policy violated their Fourteenth Amendment right to exclude others from their property without due process. Magnuson wrote there is no "compelling governmental interest" to deny them this right since the ordinance does not clearly state how it will accomplish St. Paul's housing goals.

The Minnesota Multi Housing Association, which is not a plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement that the order affirms "many of the objections we have raised repeatedly in St. Paul and Minneapolis."

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478