First year of rent stabilization shows most exception requests granted

Rent cap exemptions

Rent cap exemptions

St. Paul’s rent stabilization ordinance has been in effect for more than a year. Data from the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections shows 844 applications have been filed so far from landlords hoping to receive an exception to raise rents above 3%.

Voters approved a 3% annual rent increase cap in November 2021. It went into effect with some exceptions in May 2022. Later in September, the City Council passed amendments exempting new construction and affordable housing.

A change also allowed higher rent increases if a tenant leaves the unit under what’s defined as a just cause vacancy, which could occur if a tenant doesn’t pay their rent, violates their lease, or decides not to renew their lease.

“Everyone who walks through the door has a different understanding of the ordinance,” said Angie Wiese, DSI director. “We’ve been doing a ton of education.”

Landlords seeking an increase between 3 to 8% typically go through a self-certification process, while those seeking an increase beyond 8% typically go through a staff determination process.

From May 1, 2022 until the end of June 2023, DSI granted about 30% of the staff determination applications submitted. There were 71 applications with 21 approved.

During the same time period, DSI granted 81.5% of self-certification applications. There were 233 applications with 190 granted, according to DSI data.

“People want to comply,” said Wiese. “I think there’s this perception people are trying to skirt the system but what we find is they want to comply, they want to make sure they’re doing things the right way.”

Another 94% of rent increase requests due to just-cause vacancies were approved. There were 540 applications with 510 granted, according to DSI data. Weise said most of those cases were due to renters deciding not to renew their leases.

“When you think of 77,000 to 78,000 units in the city and how much people just move for convenience […] I expected that number to be higher,” said Weise.

The Housing Justice Center was part of a coalition of local groups that wrote the original ordinance on the ballot. President Margaret Kaplan calls the first year of the ordinance “a mixed bag.”

She said while some renters have been protected by the cap, others have faced higher rents due to the exceptions available.

“One of the things that I am concerned about, and I think a lot of people who are interested in this issue are very concerned about, is just the sheer number of exemptions being granted,” said Kaplan. “I’m also a little bit concerned about whether they are going through a process of, in particular, auditing some of those self-certifications.”

She questions how closely the city is reviewing all of the applications and whether property owners are being held accountable.

“One of the things that’s most troubling is we’ve seen a number of instances where we know there have been persistent issues related to housing condition, civil rights issues within those buildings and people are still being granted exemptions to limitations to the limitations rent increases,” said Kaplan.

According to Wiese, all applications receive a baseline review.

“Part of the ordinance is it has to meet the standards of habitability so the number one check we do on all applications whether it is a habitable building, habitable unit,” said Wiese.

The city now also has to notify tenants when their landlord applies to raise the rent above 3% and are given 45 days to appeal. According to DSI data, there have been 10 appeals filed so far. Eight of the appeals were initiated by renters while the other two were filed by landlords.

“There are challenges with rent stabilization,” said Kaplan. “There are challenges with the enforcement and exemptions created some additional challenges but let’s not forget that people have rights that they would not otherwise have this makes a huge difference in the lives of so, so many renters.”