A split St. Paul City Council has repealed tenant protections that were invalidated by a judge, despite housing advocates urging members to continue defending the measure in court.

Council members pledged in a vote Wednesday to work on a scaled-back version of the ordinance, which aimed to help more residents find housing and avoid displacement.

In response to a lawsuit filed by a group of landlords, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in April ordered St. Paul to stop enforcing its policy. He wrote that the measure's limits on landlords' ability to screen tenants and to not renew leases were likely unconstitutional.

The tenant protections, which the council approved unanimously in July 2020, had been in effect for less than two months.

Council Members Amy Brendmoen, Rebecca Noecker, Jane Prince and Chris Tolbert voted to rescind the ordinance. Mitra Jalali, Dai Thao and Nelsie Yang voted to uphold it.

"I believe that our policy is worth fighting for," Jalali said. She said that by repealing the ordinance, the council was "sending a message" that avoiding costly litigation is more important than looking out for vulnerable renters.

Yang echoed those sentiments, adding that a revised set of protections likely still could face legal challenges from landlords.

The four council members who carried the majority said rescinding the ordinance will allow St. Paul to help tenants and renters more quickly.

"All of us are committed to getting to strong tenant protections as soon as we possibly can," Prince said. "Nothing that we do here today should suggest anything else."

In a Facebook post after the vote, Noecker wrote that "while we know that ambitious, progressive legislation will always be subject to litigation," the city can learn from Magnuson's ruling and the results of an ongoing lawsuit against a similar Minneapolis ordinance.

The Housing Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization, wrote a memo to council members saying a repeal "will be viewed by the courts now and in the future as a tacit admission — and potentially a legally binding one — that Judge Magnuson's order was correct."

"Rescinding the ordinance could cause irreparable harm to the ability of St. Paul and other cities to pass similar tenant protection laws in the future," the memo said.

Mayor Melvin Carter, who has championed the tenant protections as a major policy win, said in a statement Wednesday that he joined the council and community members "in disappointment over the Court order which precipitated today's repeal vote."

"We remain steadfast in our commitment to continue working with our community to realize stable, accessible, fair and equitable housing for all who call our city home," Carter said.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478