Despite renter protections, eviction cases in Minnesota move forward

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Evictions in Minnesota are starting to be filed and heard in housing courts across the state after a nearly 16-month moratorium on the proceedings.

State legislation, passed in June, laid out an "off-ramp" plan that both protects tenants who have financially struggled throughout the pandemic and gives landlords the ability to again file evictions or terminate leases.

The process started on July 14, when landlords could start filing evictions if tenants violated their lease agreements. Data from the Minnesota Judicial Branch shows 149 eviction complaints were filed in Minnesota in the first 10 days.

"Since then, each week has added more filings," said Luke Grundman, managing attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. "Evictions are definitely picking up."

While Grundman acknowledges those numbers are nowhere near what they were pre-pandemic, he said the cases are more complicated than they were a year and a half ago.

"A number of rights have now been created for families facing eviction," he said, including a provision that protects tenants with a pending rental assistance application through the state’s RentHelpMN program.

Attorneys and tenant advocates are concerned that the court system will become overwhelmed, even with the off-ramp process in place.

"Those rights all need to be resolved," Grundman said. "It’s not easy to resolve them in the course of the handful of minutes that the court system may have available for each individual case."

But Doug Turner, an attorney who represents landlords in the Twin Cities, said the cases he is filing on behalf of clients fit the criteria that are allowed under Minnesota’s law.

"We’re not harsh people," he said. "My clients want to provide housing. But it’s the behavior. It’s the gunfire. It’s the unauthorized occupants. It’s the bringing in dogs, smoking, it’s the stuff that… under normal circumstances, we can evict for, but until July 14, 2021, we weren’t able to."

Housing courts in many counties are still holding virtual hearings. At the downtown Minneapolis office of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, conference rooms have turned into make-shift courtrooms.

Grundman, who represented clients in half a dozen different cases on Thursday, bounced between rooms to talk with tenants about their cases.

One of those clients was Michael Wright. His landlord filed an eviction against him and his wife claiming the couple refused to allow the landlord and contractors into their north Minneapolis home to inspect and perform repairs.

Wright, who said he’d rented the house for more than eight years, was concerned he’d have to pack up and leave with nowhere to go.

"I just hope and pray for the best," he said.

The eviction complaint against Wright was later dismissed during the court hearing.