The St. Louis Park City Council has repealed the “crime-free, drug-free” part of its housing ordinance after a city work group deemed it too broad, lacking due process for tenants and having a disparate impact on low-income renters and people of color.
The controversial provision, similar to parts of other cities’ ordinances, required landlords to evict tenants after three violations or instances of disorderly conduct in a year, or a single crime or drug violation. Not doing so would result in a property owner being fined.
Housing advocates said they believe St. Louis Park is the first city to eliminate the crime-free piece of its housing ordinance. The repeal takes effect Sept. 11.
“I am very, very grateful that the city has repealed its ordinance,” said City Council Member Anne Mavity. “The reality is [that] harm was being done to tenants.”
Mayor Jake Spano said that he favored repeal simply because the crime-free part no longer seemed necessary. Police already have the tools needed to address crime without it, he said.
The work group of property owners, renters, an attorney and other community members studied the issue for nine months. During that period, the rule wasn’t enforced.
Robbinsdale leaders are scheduled to discuss the matter later in September following a repeal recommendation, and the mayor’s office in Brooklyn Center also is reviewing its ordinance.
Minneapolis amended its “conduct on licensed premises” ordinance — akin to crime-free language in other cities — in 2018, taking some of the oversight from the police and giving it to a review panel, said Eric Hauge, executive director of Home Line, a nonprofit that provides legal advice to tenants.
St. Louis Park’s repeal “is a very important step forward,” Hauge said. “It’s the biggest step we’ve seen a city take on this.”
Ensuring safe living spaces was the intention when crime-free ordinances appeared in Minnesota in the 1990s, Hauge said, often as a way for police to deal with petty offenses at apartment buildings.
But the ordinances impeded tenants’ ability to summon emergency services, since police calls were tracked. They unfairly targeted renters, treating them differently from homeowners.
They also disproportionately affected people of color since a larger percentage of minorities rent their homes compared with white people. “There’s a racial equity element to it,” Hauge said.
St. Louis Park’s ordinance took effect in 2008 as a way to crack down on landlords who weren’t dealing with chaotic properties, city officials said. Every renter in the city had to sign an addendum to their lease, agreeing to comply.
Mavity said the effort was well-intended, but it put landlords in a tough spot because they were forced to either evict tenants when they amassed violations — typically counted as police contacts (not including domestic violence calls) — or face the consequences.
The ordinance treated all crimes the same, regardless of their seriousness, and there was no way for tenants to appeal the violations, the work group found.
In addition, police could be alerted on the mere perception of a tenant problem, Mavity said, rather than a real one. Racial bias might also influence which tenants were the subject of police calls.
Mavity recalled how Council Member Nadia Mohamed had shared previously that police had been called twice to her family’s apartment for noise complaints — but that no one had called 911 to report other tenants belting out Elvis Presley tunes late into the night.
The ordinance put police in the housing realm where they lack expertise, Mavity said. “I believe it has the wrong players in the wrong lane,” she said.
After a lengthy discussion, the council also revised another measure that now allows a property owner’s rental license to be knocked down to provisional if “substantial, ongoing public safety concerns” exist at the building, regardless of the number of police contacts.