Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday a ban on new eviction proceedings to prevent Minnesota landlords from removing people from their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor said in a news conference call from self-imposed quarantine that landlords and financial institutions cannot start eviction proceedings during the state’s peacetime emergency for the virus. Walz said halting evictions was necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus and it would be “not only personally cruel, but counterproductive to what we’re trying to do” if people did not have a home to stay in.
“We’re asking people to stay at home as much as possible. Having a stable home is going to be critical,” Walz said. “Certainly we’re asking people who are blessed enough or in a position enough to be able to make their rent and mortgage payment to continue to do so, obviously.”
The executive order would only allow evictions in cases where a tenant seriously endangers the safety of other residents or violates other laws like bringing in controlled substances or using or possessing firearms unlawfully. The order also stops the execution of writs of recovery where sheriff’s deputies order tenants to move out of their apartments or be forcibly removed.
The order says “nothing in this Executive Order relieves a tenant’s obligation to pay rent.”
Banks are urged to avoid foreclosures and related evictions and late fees for mortgage payments are discouraged if there was a decrease in income or substantial medical expenses caused by the coronavirus, according to the order.
More than 24 other states, counties, cities and judicial districts nationwide have issued directives suspending evictions, according to the executive order. President Donald Trump also announced last week that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will suspend all foreclosures and evictions until April 30.
Walz’s order will override the Minnesota court system’s previous suspension of some housing court proceedings as part of their change in operations due to the virus. Tenant rights advocates have pushed the courts and local sheriff’s departments to stop evictions amid the pandemic. They’ve pointed to the risk that large, crowded courtrooms and hallways may cause more infections and that removing people from their homes when they need to be indoors puts them at risk.
Advocates have also pointed out that the pandemic has upended the state’s workforce, with workers being laid off, losing wages or waiting for unemployment benefits, while closed schools and businesses have scrambled family routines and household budgets.
Walz’s announcement is “exactly what we were hoping for” said Luke Grundman, managing attorney of the housing unit for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, a nonprofit legal advocacy group. “The governor was willing to do things that the courts weren’t willing to do or didn’t feel they had power to do.”
The Minnesota Multi-Housing Association, the state organization for property owners, released unprecedented guidelines encouraging members who own and operate rental apartments to offer flexibility to tenants affected by the pandemic, including waiving late fees for those unable to pay their rent on time and repayment plans for missed rent. The recommendations also suggest members halt evictions of renters. The guidelines are in place until May 31.
Cecil Smith, president and CEO of the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association and a rental property owner and manager in Minneapolis, said they’re encouraging renters to proactively communicate with their property managers as much as possible.
“We’re very concerned for the health and well-being of residents and for the financial sustainability of our properties,” he said.
Smith said building owners he’s been in touch with don’t consider waiving rents an option, and that the recommendations are aimed at maintaining housing stability for both residents and building owners who have mortgages, utilities, property taxes and other expenses that must be paid.
Staff writers Jim Buchta and Randy Furst contributed to this report.