Minnesota lawmakers are moving measures intended to protect renters, after more ambitious bills meant to spur construction of more apartments appear to have fallen short.

The Senate this week passed a tenants' rights bill that contained a slate of new protections, along with a set of regulations aimed at apartment buildings where a single utility meter is shared by all tenants, which has meant tenants don't get the same protections as other utility customers. DFL lawmakers hope the pair of bills will make a difference for the nearly 1.3 million Minnesotans who rent their homes, after a bill last year dedicated one-time money and a metro-area sales tax to affordable housing and rental aid.

"We wanted to bring policies that made that field more of a balanced one" between renters and landlords, said Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, DFL-Minneapolis.

Both bills passed the Senate this week and are now before the House.

If the tenants' rights bill becomes law, tenants will have the right to organize and work with outside organizers. Mohamed said that provision was inspired by three buildings in her district where tenants shared complaints during COVID-19 about maintenance and rent increases. With the help of tenant organizers, they banded together to demand fixes from the landlord. Mohamed said the organization is now working to buy the building and turn it into a co-op.

The bill contains a wide range of other regulations for landlords. Landlords wouldn't be allowed to deny someone a lease who has an individual taxpayer identification number, which some immigrants use instead of a Social Security number. Tenants who ended their leases early because they were victims of domestic or sexual violence or harassment could move to get evictions erased from their records. Landlords wouldn't be allowed to charge pet fees for someone who has a service or support animal.

Republicans criticized the bill as a one-sided approach that doesn't address the causes of expensive housing.

"Instead of encouraging more homeownership and the development of additional rental properties, Democrats took an adversarial approach to the landlord-tenant relationship that reduces private property rights and jeopardizes the safety of everyone who lives in multifamily housing," said Sen. Eric Lucero, R-St. Michael, in a statement.

The bill also offers protections for renters who are supposed to be moving into new or renovated apartment buildings that aren't finished by the time the lease starts, such as what happened last fall with a Dinkytown student apartment building. The bill would require developers or landlords to provide or pay for other quarters for their tenants to stay until work is finished, or allow tenants to break the lease and get their money back.

Mohamed said legislators did eliminate some provisions from the bill after meetings with landlords' groups: "The bill is significantly smaller than when it started."

The other bill, which passed the Senate on Thursday, deals specifically with apartment buildings that have only one meter to measure how much gas, water or electricity all the tenants use. Single-meter buildings tend to be older, with less expensive apartments.

Landlords have the power to switch off utilities to tenants in single-meter buildings without any recourse, said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and landlords have sometimes used unpaid utility fees to evict people.

The bill, Dibble said, "is another way to make sure people are secure in their housing."

Because tenants in such buildings are not direct customers of utility companies, they don't have the same state protections as people who pay electricity, gas and other utility bills directly to a utility company. The bill extends similar protections to tenants in single-meter buildings.

The at-times opaque divisions of the bills in single-meter buildings, sometimes undertaken by third-party billing companies, have resulted in some tenants facing monthly bills of several hundred or thousands of dollars for modest apartments. A Utah-based landlord, Investment Property Group, was sued by the Minnesota Attorney General's Office last year over the way it divided utility bills at its properties, including the Greenway Apartments in south Minneapolis and three buildings in Hopkins.

Dibble said he saw the bill as "one of those easy, make-people's-lives-better bills." Republicans did not raise any objections on the Senate floor, and the bill passed 44-19.