ST. PAUL — Minnesota landlords on Monday, June 14, sued Gov. Tim Walz in federal court alleging the state's eviction moratorium violates the constitutional rights of renters and landlords.
The Minnesota Multi Housing Association along with three property management groups filed suit after 15 months of the moratorium and after landlords around the state reported that they'd had tenants take advantage of the law to stay in their homes despite breaking the terms of their leases and causing serious disruptions.
The lawsuit was filed the same day lawmakers in the divided Legislature announced that they'd reached a deal on an off-ramp to end the moratorium and phase in allowable evictions over 105 days. Lawmakers are likely to take up that proposal for a vote later this week.
But Cecil Smith, president and CEO of the Multi Housing Association, said property owners needed swifter action and worried that the off-ramp would allow problem tenants to repeatedly apply for federally subsidized rent assistance, preventing a landlord from evicting them for failing to pay rent.
“Our members and our residents have waited 15 months for some relief and we have asked the governor, we have asked the Legislature, we have waited patiently," Smith told reporters Tuesday, "and we reached the point where the only recourse left for our members and our residents who have suffered from the bad acts of some of their neighbors is to go to federal court and ask for relief.”
The group had previously supported the off-ramp, but property managers around the state reached a breaking point as they faced tenants that caused property damage, used or sold drugs or otherwise violated their leases beyond failing to pay rent. The moratorium bars landlords from evicting the problem tenants and the proposed off-ramp would set up a delay before those renters could be evicted.
"There's a terrible loophole there," Smith said. "In principle, it seems like a fair proposition but it needs to be crafted so that if you're denied and you're not moving out then we do have the right to go to housing court and ask for possession to be returned to us."
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Walz last spring ordered a temporary ban on evictions in an effort to keep Minnesotans safely housed during the pandemic. And he has said he wants the Legislature to set up a phased approach to ending it before he would repeal the moratorium.
Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, chairs the Senate Housing Finance and Policy Committee and has helped write the off-ramp proposal. He said the measure would let landlords evict problem tenants 15 days after the bill became law and resolve other potential issues as far as giving tenants adequate notice about a possible eviction and point out resources to help them pay.
"This has been going on for a long time and we've been negotiating for over a year and I can live with two weeks, 15 days," Draheim said. "I don't think that's unrealistic or unfair to have 15 days after waiting 15 months."
Minnesota received $672 million from the federal government to help renters pay overdue rent as well as three months of rent into the future if they've faced employment issues and financial hardship due to the pandemic. Lawmakers encouraged renters in need of assistance to visit renthelpmn.org or call 211 for information about programs available.