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Here's what the new St. Paul housing ordinance means for renters and landlords

The St. Paul City Council has approved an ordinance stipulating several protections for tenants

The St. Paul City Council has approved new protections for residential renters, which will go in effect next year.

St. Paul Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher and City Council Member Mitra Jalali first unveiled a version of the Tenant Protection Ordinance in March. Since then, dozens of housing advocacy organizations, residents and landlords have weighed in via letters and public comment.

The council voted 7-0 Wednesday to approve it as an ordinance. 

"The genesis of this agenda is actually in community," Jalali said. "It's because of your fight today that we're passing this policy." 

While many housing advocates have lauded increased protection for tenants, some landlords have critiqued the ordinance for not taking into account the need to raise rent based on rising property taxes, the Pioneer Press reports. Landlords have also raised concerns about potentially putting other tenants in dangerous situations based on an applicant's history, and the fact they are sometimes stuck with high costs from property damage, unpaid rent and housing court filing fees, the Star Tribune notes.

"The time has come for us to address the deep housing disparities facing underserved people in St. Paul – Black, Indigenous, and people of color. And we must also address the impact the higher arrest rates, bias in the court systems, and massive incarceration has had on the housing experience for people of color, particularly African Americans," said council member Jane Prince. 

Here is a breakdown of the key protections in the ordinance: 

Just cause

If landlords choose not to renew a lease, they must provide a specific reason in writing to the tenant. Permissible reasons for a landlord to not renew a lease include:

  • Failure to pay rent
  • Late payment of rent
  • Exceeding occupancy limits
  • Occupancy conditional based on employment
  • Demolition
  • Government order to vacate or renovate a building

A handful of other cities nationwide, along with the state of New Jersey, have adopted “just cause” requirements. 

Advance notice of sale

Landlords will be required to notify their tenants in affordable housing units at least 90 days notice before selling the property. After the sale, the new landlord will be required to give rental or relocation assistance within the first 90 days if they raise rent or terminate a lease. 

Tenant history

The ordinance changes how landlords can use credit scores, prior evictions or criminal history as evidence to not sign or renew a lease. It stipulates that landlords must provide written screening criteria to tenants, and to keep this criteria uniform. 

  • Landlords are still permitted to pull copies of credit reports, but they are not allowed to use credit scores alone as a reason to deny someone a lease. 
    • Landlords may use credit report information "to the extent the report demonstrates a failure to pay rent or utility bills." 
    • The landlord cannot make decisions based on insufficient credit history, unless the applicant is withholding credit history information that might otherwise provide a basis for denial.  
  • Landlords may review up to three years of a renter's history for evidence of eviction
  • Landlords may not deny a renter because of:
    • Petty misdemeanors
    • Arrests or charges that did not result in convictions, as well as crimes that are no longer illegal in Minnesota
    • Felonies older than seven years, and misdemeanors older than three years
  • Landlords CAN deny a lease if: 
    • An applicant has been convicted of illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance
    • An applicant has been convicted of specific offenses that mandate denial of tenancy in federally assisted housing, including having any member of the household registered as a lifetime sex offender
    • An applicant has been convicted of murder, kidnapping, arson, assault, robbery, manslaughter or criminal sexual conduct, even if it's older than 10 years. 

Move-in requirements

Landlords can only charge tenants the first month’s rent and a security deposit that is either equal to or less than the monthly rent.

If the renter would otherwise not qualify for an apartment, landlords can request a higher security deposit as collateral.

Tenants must also be provided an information packet that includes tenant resources and plain-language explanations of the legal obligations of tenants and landlords. 

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