The featured quotation in Wednesday’s Star Tribune local section, “We cannot protect our tenants,” says it well. Although the article it came from talked about a landlord losing residents out of fear about the nearby tent city in Powderhorn Park, our law firm is hearing the same theme from many Minnesota landlords.
Gov. Tim Walz’s peacetime emergency order prohibiting evictions has been in place since March. As the governor keeps extending it, our clients and our office are helpless to enforce leases and community rules that are intended to protect the rights of residents.
There have been many articles about financial challenges due to the pandemic. Credit goes to the Star Tribune for highlighting the growing impact of missing law and lease enforcement on residents living in rental housing.
As written, the governor’s order includes very narrow exceptions for criminal activity or conduct that seriously endangers the lives of others. But here are examples of conduct that can make apartment residency a living hell, yet our clients cannot stop this conduct by filing a standard eviction, or even giving a lease termination notice, under the governor’s never-ending order:
• A resident with an unauthorized pit bull is terrorizing others.
• In a no-smoking building a tenant, with her guests, smokes all the time. Residents with allergies, lung conditions and sensitivity to smoke who chose the building as a smoke-free environment are getting sick. We can do nothing.
• A senior property has residents vulnerable to COVID-19. They can’t understand why one neighbor allowed as many as 50 guests to come and go at all hours of the day and night. This resident has given out keys, and management has proof of this on camera. She has also continuously violated the governor’s stay-at-home order. Management can do nothing.
• A resident allowed three squatters to move into her apartment. She was already subject to a pending eviction that was blocked back in March. She must not be paying for air conditioning, because the tenant refuses to close her windows even during torrential rain. We have her on tape refusing to close her windows when it rains. Water comes through her open windows and runs into the apartment below. It has damaged the downstairs tenant’s property and shorted out an electric outlet. The downstairs tenant is moving. We cannot stop the ongoing damage.
• A tenant adopted a puppy in a no-dog building. She never walks the puppy and her apartment floor has become one big “piddle pad.” The unit stinks and the city has written orders. My client cannot terminate the tenancy or evict until the unit is at the point of condemnation.
• A resident assaulted a management staff member and other tenants. The tenant shouts and screams epithets at neighbors. We tried to evict but the case was dismissed. Assault is not sufficient to “seriously endanger the lives of others.” No amount of threats, swearing or even racial epithets are a basis for a lease termination or eviction at the present time.
I get it. No one feels sorry for landlords. But enough is enough. Everyone wants safe and affordable housing. Many believe it is a right. But property owners and managers need the right to enforce leases, and to take timely action when people won’t obey rules. The governor needs to lift the order suspending evictions and writs of recovery, or modify it to only apply to tenants facing financial hardship.
Donna E. Hanbery is a Minneapolis attorney.