From the Field: Minneapolis City Council Passes Historic Tenant Protections

The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed on September 13 an ordinance that establishes historic new tenant protections. The ordinance limits tenant screening practices by landlords on the basis of criminal history, credit scores, and past evictions. It also caps the amount landlords can charge for a security deposit at one month’s rent. The ordinance marks a significant milestone for renter protections in Minneapolis, which is now a renter-majority city. HOME Line, an NLIHC member and statewide tenant advocacy group, prominently provided leadership throughout the effort to pass the ordinance, along with other allies such as InquilinXs UnidXs por Justicia, the Alliance, ISAIAH, TakeAction Minnesota, Parks & Power, and PPNA Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association.

Many Minneapolis renters - particularly low-income households, people of color, and individuals with criminal backgrounds and eviction histories - face barriers to accessing housing. In Minnesota, landlords can file an eviction action on the first day rent is overdue and can do so without notifying the tenant. Prior to the ordinance, screening practices allowed landlords to reject applicants based on one prior eviction filing, even when the eviction action was dismissed in court. Renters of color, particularly single, African American women with children, are disproportionately impacted by evictions. The use of criminal records and credit history to determine rental eligibility also has a disparate impact on communities of color. Expensive security deposits effectively prevent extremely low-income renters from accessing rental housing. This ordinance regulates the amount landlords can charge for security deposits, a policy already in effect in half of all states.

The ordinance enacts new limits on landlords’ screening practices, restricting their ability to legally reject prospective renters due to criminal history, eviction history, and credit scores. Landlords henceforth cannot reject applicants due to misdemeanors older than three years, felonies older than seven years, and convictions for first-degree arson, assault, manslaughter, kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct, murder and aggravated robbery with sentencing dates older than ten years. The ordinance prevents landlords from denying applicants based on eviction judgments older than three years, settlements older than one year, and dismissed evictions. It does not prevent landlords from denying applicants on the lifetime sex-offender registry or individuals convicted of manufacturing or distributing controlled substances. Landlords cannot reject applicants due to insufficient credit history but can consider credit information if it is relevant to the applicants’ ability to pay rent. Landlords must also consider a tenant’s history of successful ren payments if they intend to use a “3-times the rent” minimum income guideline.

Property owners have two options for screening potential renters: conduct an individualized assessment or adopt the inclusive screening criteria detailed in the ordinance. If owners conduct individualized assessments, they are required to both consider supplemental evidence provided by the applicants and either justify or negate the relevance of the potentially negative information revealed in the screening. The ordinance goes into effect on June 1, 2020, except for landlords with 15 rental homes or fewer, who must comply by December 1, 2020.

Local housing advocates commended Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender and Council Member Jeremiah Ellison for introducing the ordinance. HOME Line worked in coalition with community members and allies throughout the public engagement process, including showing broad-based support through sign-ons to an endorsement letter prior to the Housing Policy & Development Committee’s public hearing on the draft ordinance. The sign-on letter included statistics, research findings, and analyses that demonstrated how aggressive screening practices disproportionately harm low-income tenants and renters of color. The City Council made amendments to the ordinance after considering comments from the public hearing.

“Renters are an extremely important and increasingly large component of Minneapolis neighborhoods,” said Eric Hauge, executive director of HOME Line. “Minneapolis and the broader Twin Cities area must continue to expand upon similar Renters First policies, treating tenants and rental housing as a critical community asset for a sustainable and equitable region.”

For more information on this important victory for Minneapolis renters, contact Michael Dahl, public policy director for HOME Line at [email protected].