Minnesota legislators consider bill to prevent evictions for tenants seeking assistance

Renters were protected as Minnesota phased out its temporary eviction ban implemented during the height of the pandemic. They couldn’t be evicted as long as they’d applied for RentHelpMN assistance. The protection, however, expired last June.

“But the pandemic, COVID is still very real,” said Mary Kaczorek, managing attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. “You have people paying a ton of their income to their rent and they get COVID, a family member dies, or their car gets in a car accident, just one thing can change their whole situation. They fall behind in their rent and because these protections are not in place their landlord can file right away.”

Kaczorek is now advocating for a bill that would block eviction for non-payment of rent as long as the renter has a pending application for rental assistance with a federal, state or local agency.

“The bulk assistance comes from the counties and the counties are just swamped so many people need help right now,” she said. “They’re doing the best they can but again it takes time to process that application and it just doesn’t make sense to put them out on the street when the government is actively working on their application and the landlord will get paid at the end of the day.”

Rep. María Isa Pérez-Vega (DFL-St. Paul) authored HF602 after hearing from constituents who needed additional time after applying for rental assistance. Receiving that assistance can take two weeks to six months, she said.

“This is an avenue to give support to both the tenant and the landlord,” said Pérez-Vega. “It costs to have evictions. It costs the landlord, and it costs the renter who just needs a little time.”

To qualify for this new protection, renters would have to show proof they have already applied for the assistance.

“It’s not ‘Oh we’re waiting to apply’, that’s not the case,” said Pérez-Vega. “It’s in the system and if it’s denied, the landlord has every action to [move forward] with an eviction.”

The Minnesota Multi-Housing Association supports the concept of the legislation. President Cecil Smith said, however, more specific information needs to be added.

“What types of rental assistance are we talking about?,” said Smith. “What are the timelines? This can’t be a repeat of RentHelpMN where it took months and months before the check came and there was incredible financial distress in our industry because we’re housing these people but we’re not collecting any income and we still have bills to pay.”

He added, “We just hope, as this law comes together, there are some fair and reasonable guidelines that help both residents and help the property owner and manager continue to have a great property to rent.”

Rep. Pérez-Vega said both Republican and DFL lawmakers are working together to address those concerns.

There was a hearing on the bill in the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee last week. It has been laid over for possible inclusion in a future Housing omnibus bill.