As the end of Minnesota's COVID-era eviction moratorium looms, the city of Minneapolis is taking an unusual step to help renters: providing them legal counsel if they're evicted.
On Friday, the City Council unanimously approved a "right to counsel ordinance" that would ensure legal representation to low-income renters facing eviction — specifically those whose income "is less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines."
“If someone is accused of a crime, and can’t afford an attorney, society provides one for them,” Council Member Cam Gordon said in a news release. “But when low-income families are confronting being evicted from their homes, there’s no similar guarantee. That has to change. And given the inaction at the state level, this change has to start right here in Minneapolis.”
“We know that the end of the statewide eviction moratorium may result in a wave of people being kicked out of their homes,” Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said in the same release. “We already have too many people living on the streets. To prevent homelessness, we need to prevent people from being wrongfully evicted.”
Per a FAQ list set up by the city, attorneys can make "a critical difference" in eviction cases, as "tenants are more likely to be able to stay in their home, and much more likely to avoid a forced departure from their home by sheriff deputies."
Additionally, even in cases that result in the tenant moving out, the city says, attorneys can still "mitigate harm" and reduce the risk of homelessness by getting their clients more move-out time and preventing eviction from being "formally entered" in a tenant's record.
There may be some hurdles in implementing the program, however.
As Minnesota Reformer points out, it's not yet fully funded or included in Mayor Jacob Frey’s 2022 budget proposal, but "city staff hope to use one-time federal American Rescue Plan dollars to ramp up services."
Minnesota's eviction moratorium was implemented via an emergency executive order by Gov. Tim Walz on March 24, 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It barred most landlords from evicting tenants during the public health emergency. It was one of the handful of measures he kept in place while announcing an end to most COVID-related restrictions in the state.
An agreement by state lawmakers earlier this year allows for a phased-out end to the moratorium. It requires landlords to notify renters regarding outstanding rent 15 days prior to an eviction, while renters who have outstanding rental assistance claims will be protected from eviction until June 1, 2022.
The latter rule goes into effect on Tuesday, October 12, when "all lease terminations and eviction protections will be lifted except for eligible renters with pending COVID-19 rental assistance applications," the Minneapolis City Council said in its news release.
Renters can apply for COVID-19 rental assistance at renthelpmn.org.