New ordinance intended to remove needless barriers
Minneapolis Fifth Ward City Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison spoke at a community information session on November 4 hosted by the Heritage Park Neighborhood Association on the newly passed rental ordinance authored by him and Ward 10 Councilmember Lisa Bender. While acknowledging that affordable housing will likely continue to present challenges to tenants in Minneapolis, its supporters hope this ordinance will help bridge the gap in disparities.
The ordinance aims to further protect tenant rights in the city. In the past, landlords have been able to turn away renters due to low credit scores, a history of evictions, or a criminal record. Some believe that this has led to the unjust exclusion of many from local neighborhoods. “We tried to make an ordinance that would make sure people weren’t being excluded unnecessarily,” said Ellison.
“We have lots of evidence to show that renters in our community, low-income renters in our community and renters of color, are being exploited in our market,” said Councilmember Lisa Bender before the council passed the ordinance unanimously at a meeting in September.
The ordinance sought to eliminate some barriers to renting that are borderline discriminatory. The ordinance prevents landlords from turning away potential tenants who have a misdemeanor that is older than three years or a felony that is older than seven. For some more serious crimes, 10 or more years must have passed.
The ordinance will also prevent landlords from denying applicants based on their eviction history. The intent is to prevent past problems from interfering with a tenant’s current ability to obtain housing.
It also addresses the issue of credit. The ordinance seeks to prevent people being turned away for bad credit. A poor credit score can be caused by falling behind on school loans or medical bills, and it can follow people for decades.
Ellison pointed out that a bad credit score is not a good indication of whether tenants will pay their rent. He said that according to studies, over one-third of Americans have a bad mark on their credit. “Before they do anything else, people pay their rent, and they pay it on time,” noted Ellison. “Some people have no credit because they pay everything in cash.”
Some landlords are vehemently opposed to the new law, saying it will open up their properties and neighborhoods to dangerous people. Minnesota Multi-Housing, the group behind Safe and Affordable Neighborhoods of Minneapolis, noted on their website that “the updated draft [of the ordinance] continues to prohibit consideration of dozens of serious, violent criminal offenses during the rental screening process.”
In actuality, the ordinance does not ignore criminal convictions. It does attempt to prevent people from being continually barred from renting years after their conviction.
In response to critics of the new ordinance, Ellison stated that their objections are “incorrect” based on “the HUD data that we put and cited in the ordinance and the local data that we cited in the ordinance.”
Ricardo Perez of the Alliance for Metrostability explained how the ordinance would create positive change. “I think that this is a step in the right direction. This is something that will start humanizing people who rent homes.”
While Perez said that the ordinance could bring change and awareness to the topic of housing accessibility, he also said that more changes are needed. “Affordability issues still exist. They might get in, but if rent is too high it’s not an option, so I think that there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.”
An attendee told the councilmember that he had recently acquired a license to become a landlord and, in his opinion, “It is just too easy to become a landlord and not enough information is provided about tenants and tenants’ rights.”
Ellison noted during the meeting that there were two other issues they hoped to address that were not included in the ordinance. He said they were looking to find ways to make sure tenants who were displaced through no fault of their own were not penalized.
He also wanted to add to the ordinance a provision that would force landlords to give tenants two weeks to move before they file an eviction so that they do not get Unlawful Detainers, which could further compromise their ability to find housing.
The ordinance will go into effect in June 2020. “Enforcement is going to have some challenges,” Ellison said during the Monday night meeting. Within the next few months he plans to create an implementation team to ensure that the ordinance is fully effective.
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