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Court of Appeals: Minneapolis CAN stop landlords from screening out Section 8 tenants

A district court judge had previously thrown out the ordinance.

Landlords in Minneapolis will be prevented for rejecting prospective tenants who apply for a rental property using Section 8 vouchers, following a Court of Appeals ruling on Monday.

The court found in favor of the City of Minneapolis, overturning a district court ruling last June that prevented the ordinance being enforced, having come into effect on May 1, 2018.

Dozens of apartment owners had sued the city, with a district judge agreeing with their contention that the city's ordinance presumed that any owner who screened out Section 8 applicants was prejudiced when they may have had other valid reasons for rejecting them, the Star Tribune reported.

In turn, the judge found this violated their rights to due process and equal protection.

But the Court of Appeals found that the district judge was too narrow in his consideration of the Section 8 ordinance, saying it "erred by limiting its analysis of the amended ordinance’s public purpose to reducing prejudiced-based discrimination."

The prohibition, the appeals court noted, serves a wider purpose of being a "legitimate means to increase housing opportunities for voucher holders."

The ruling, while still subject to a possible Minnesota Supreme Court challenge, was welcomed by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

"Housing is a human right—and no one should ever be unjustly denied a place to live,” said Frey. "Today’s court decision is a victory for Minneapolis families who need homes and for advocates for increased access to low-income housing throughout Minneapolis.

"I applaud our City Attorney’s office for yet another successful defense of the laws we have enacted to support Minneapolis residents."

More on the Section 8 ordinance

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority administers Minneapolis' housing choice vouchers program, paying federal subsidies directly to private landlords with Section 8 tenants.

But a 2016 study of rental listings by the nonprofit HOME Line found that only 57 percent of listings in Minneapolis were within the financial limits affordable to Section 8 voucher holders.

Of those, only 23 percent would accept listings, and the majority of those rental properties were located in high-poverty areas in North Minneapolis.

A disproportionate number of Section 8 vouchers, 84 percent, are used by people of color, while 41 percent include households where someone has a disability.

There are some exemptions under the Minneapolis ordinance, with landlords allowed to screen out Section 8 applicants in situations such as renting a single room in an owner-occupied single-family home, as well as a unit of an owner-occupied duplex.

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Landlords however have argued that their complaints against the ordinance goes beyond due process and equal protections, noting that many have business reasons for rejecting applicants.

As the Court of Appeals ruling notes, plaintiffs had argued that criminal background checks and credit histories are significant barriers to Section 8 voucher holders, and the city should instead focus on addressing those issues.

It turns out, Minneapolis is considering preventing landlords from denying applicants based upon certain criminal histories, and if they have credit scores of below 500. 

A draft proposal to that effect was revealed last month by council president Lisa Bender and councilor Jeremiah Ellison, but this too has had pushback from landlord organizations in Minneapolis.

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