When six neighborhood associations get together to sponsor a panel discussion, you know the topic is important. When the topic is renters’ rights, you can be certain you’ll draw a crowd. Although people attending the discussion tended to drift in and out of Būch Fermentary’s big open doors, 45 attendees registered at the Oct. 11 event, and organizers counted 75 people in the room, including vendors and speakers.
The neighborhood associations that collaborated in bringing the event to fruition were Beltrami Neighborhood Council, Logan Park Neighborhood Association, Northeast Park Neighborhood Association, St. Anthony East Neighborhood Association, Waite Park Community Council and Windom Park Citizens in Action.
The panelists were José Velez, housing liaison for Minneapolis Regulatory Services; Michael Dahl, HOME Line; Mary Kazorec, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid; and Kaela McConnen Diarra, Minneapolis Civil Rights department. First Ward Council Member Elliott Payne was the moderator.
The first question was, “What should you do as a renter?” Kazorec, who lives in Waite Park, said, “Always look at the actual unit you are renting. Take note of things that need fixing before you sign a lease — take pictures.” She said renters have a right to have an inspection before they move in and move out. She also said you don’t need a lease, but it’s good idea to have one.
Velez advised renters to “firm up how rent is paid, and get receipts, especially if you’re paying cash. Know what the rent is and what are the fees.” He noted that many landlords now request payment through an electronic portal, which can add $6 or $7 extra to a lease. “Move-in fees, move-out fees should be disclosed up front,” he said.
Asked about the best approach to disputes, Kazorec drew a laugh when she said, “Sue ‘em!” She explained, “Your landlord is not your friend. They are providing a service, and this is a business deal.”
Diarra said, “If you think you are facing eviction because you’re in a protected class, document your experience. We can help. We are a neutral investigative agency. Fines make a landlord aware, and we can offer mediation.”
Velez said the first step is to call 311. “It’s the portal to all city services,” he said. “There are protections you have through ordinances and statutes.
“It’s important that you live in safety,” he continued. “If you call 311, we can connect you to resources such as a housing inspector who can document your complaint [if it’s about a maintenance issue]. Although if it’s not a code violation, it’s hard for an inspector to enforce a repair. We want to avoid displacement at all costs.”
Diarra noted landlords have to give tenants “reasonable” notice to enter their homes. A new law passed this year by the Minnesota Legislature goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024. It specifies a 24-hour notice.
To the question, how does a renter find a lawyer?, Dahl said HOME Line offers renters free confidential legal advice about repairs, leases, evictions, illegal rent increases, breaking a lease, lack of heat and giving or getting notice. “The tenant promises to pay rent; the landlord promises to keep the home in good repair,” Dahl said. HOME Line offers assistance in Spanish, Hmong and Somali.
If you have trouble paying your rent, the panelists agreed, let your landlord know you’re not trying to avoid paying rent. Try to work out an agreement and put it in writing. And contact the city’s liaison program.
“More than half of the people who live in Minneapolis are renters,” said Velez. “We can connect you to resources such as energy assistance. When people go through hard times, we’re here to assist.”
Kazorec said Minnesota is tied for the third fastest eviction rate in the nation. Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid is trying to slow down the eviction process. “We want tenants to have a fair shake,” she said.
If you do move out, your landlord must provide an itemized list of deductions from your security deposit within three weeks of your departure. Part or all of the deposit should be mailed to your new address, so be sure your landlord has the information.
Editor’s note: The Minnesota Legislature passed 16 new laws that affect renters and landlords. Watch for our Dec. 13 issue, when we’ll detail new rental laws that go into effect Jan. 1, 2024.
Who to call?
Civil Rights complaints: If you feel you have been discriminated against because of income or race: Minneapolis Civil Rights Department, 311 or 612-673-3012. Or fill out a complaint form at minneapolismn.gov/discrimination-complaint-form.
Legal assistance: HOME Line’s metro hotline is 612-728-5767. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid helps people with limited incomes, age 60 or older or with disabilities in Anoka and Hennepin Counties. 612-334-5970 or email@example.com. Hours are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8:30 a.m.-noon on Friday.
Questions about renter rights: Call HOME Line or 311.
Energy assistance: Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County, 952-930-3541. Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy have programs for their customers. Xcel: 651-744-9010 or energycents.org. CenterPoint: bit.ly/centerpointgap or 612-372-4727