Residents and landlords packed seats and stood shoulder to shoulder Wednesday to voice their opinions about a proposed Minneapolis rule that aims to give renters with problem backgrounds a better chance during the application process.
The Minneapolis City Council’s Housing Policy and Development Committee approved moving the ordinance to the full council after the three-hour public hearing. The full council is expected to take it up next month.
The ordinance would limit how far back landlords can consider an applicant’s criminal and eviction histories, cap security deposits and limit how credit scores are used.
The public hearing caps a bitter summerlong standoff between tenants and landlords that has put Minneapolis’ struggle to solve — or at least curb — the city’s affordable-housing crisis on full display.
Cities nationwide, including Detroit, Portland, Ore., Seattle and Washington, D.C. have considered tenant-screening ordinances as part of their affordable-housing strategies. Minneapolis City Council members have grappled with how to help more people access housing, particularly low-income people, people of color and those with criminal backgrounds or evictions.
“Yes, not every ordinance does every single thing, but building our way out of an affordable-housing crisis is not the way that we can go either,” said Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, one of the co-authors. “We can build and build and build, and people with blemishes on their record will continue to be screened out of our city if we don’t make this change.”
Supporters on Wednesday said the change would ease the financial barriers that come with rising rents and diminished-housing options and give people with troubled histories a second chance.
But property owners who attended expressed concern about losing money to pay for damages and being unfairly cited for violating the ordinance without due process, as well as the increased costs of doing business and potentially having to defend themselves against it. During the hearing, people booed those who went to the podium to oppose it.
The proposed rule would mean landlords can’t deny an applicant on the basis of a misdemeanor if the case is three-plus years old and seven-plus years old for felonies, and in certain cases of arson, assault or robbery more than 10 years old. Council members are also aiming to curb the effect of eviction judgments by not allowing them to be considered if they are more than three years old. The ordinance would also limit how credit screenings are used, including preventing landlords from denying an applicant because of insufficient credit history. The proposed ordinance would also cap the amount landlords can charge for a security deposit at a month’s rent.
Proponents have said the change would give residents a fairer shot at housing, since the tenant-screening process does not give a full understanding of an individual’s ability to be a good tenant or how job loss or medical bills can affect the ability to pay rent. Throughout the hearing, people supporting the rule said it would be an important part of the city’s long-term goals to prevent homelessness, housing discrimination, and racial and income inequality.
Tecara Ayler of north Minneapolis said she supports the ordinance but told the committee that the council needs to deal with other issues going on in the community. She pointed out that while she’s a homeowner now, she spent more than two years organizing around a slumlord, and even today deals with her electricity and water being cut off because of high utility bills. The two-year fight to make change has become tiring.
“Regardless of what the ordinance says or anything else that’s going on, we’re just not being supported like we should,” Ayler said.
But opponents, including the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, a group representing property owners statewide, said the rule would put community safety at risk and force landlords to lower their standards. The association has also said the ordinance would make Minneapolis a less attractive place for property owners and cause them to raise rents or leave. A combination of property-management companies and individual landlords testified at the hearing.
The ordinance is “extremely distressing” and “vague” for small landlords who work hard to invest in properties and make them livable and affordable, said Margie Pierce, a landlord with properties in north and south Minneapolis. The end of the month is days away and she is still waiting for an August rent check. In the meantime, she said she has $99 to live off of between now and Sept. 2.
If she sold her properties, “chances are they would be sold to someone who cared a whole lot less about the tenants who lived with them,” she told the committee.
Pierce said she could potentially lose “sleep at night regarding things like criminal background and credit score when I select my tenants — it makes me wonder if this business would be worthwhile for me, in all honesty.”