In 2016, I was nearly taken to court by my landlord over a late rent payment. Due to a miscommunication and an awkwardly timed paycheck, I paid a day late, and the payment didn’t go through until a day after. A late fee had been tacked onto my balance in the meantime, so when the payment did go through I still came up short. Due to the property’s policy of no partial payments, the whole transaction was reversed, a process that could take up to eight business days. This all happened on a Friday, and I was given until Monday to come up with the full payment, late fee included, or be taken to court. With my money floating in the ether, and no emergency money to speak of, I was left with very few options. I thought the whole situation was ridiculous, but upon talking to other renters, I learned that this was actually fairly common. I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow money from family, but others are often not so lucky.
As of this year, there are more renters than property owners in the city of Minneapolis, and a lot of them are concentrated in Northeast. Logan Park, Beltrami, Sheridan and St. Anthony East in particular have a lot of renters, but members of their respective neighborhood organizations noticed that few of them are involved in the community, even though neighborhood organizations are a good way to get renters connected with resources that could help them out of tough situations like the one I once found myself in.
The seed of an idea for a renters’ event came from the Northeast Park Neighborhood Association, and one by one, they looped in the other neighborhoods. Leaders from each of these neighborhoods gathered together on Tuesday, Oct. 15 to test the waters by hosting an open house featuring local renters’ advocates. It showcased renters’ rights resources and advocates from throughout Minneapolis. It could become an annual event.
“Historically, neighborhood organizations are usually homeowners, and we want to change that,” said Mike Ferrin, from the Beltrami Neighborhood Council.
The crowd began trickling into Able Seedhouse + Brewery around 5 pm. Information booths from different renters’ resources were set up around the room, and guests had time to mingle before speakers began at 6. Speakers included Minneapolis City Council members Kevin Reich and Steve Fletcher, State Senator Kari Dziedzic, a representative from the attorney general’s office, and public policy advocate Michael Dahl. Dahl represented Home Line, a free legal hotline that serves renting tenants across Minnesota.
Home Line’s hotline offers legal advice and education so renters can solve their own housing problems quickly; they also help renters organize to solve common issues on properties where they live together. Currently, Dahl said Home Line and Senator
Dziedzic are working together on drafting a bill that would require property owners to provide their tenants with a 14-day notice of a breach of contract on their lease before legal action is taken. This two-week window is meant to provide tenants with the opportunity to seek a solution, or assistance, for their problem before finding themselves homeless with a black mark on their rental history. Currently, no such notice is required by law in Minnesota, though Dahl said that 38 other states have such laws.
Senator Dziedzic said that a bill that included this policy was introduced last year, and she hopes it will get a hearing in the next legislative session. She wants to work out a method with Hennepin County that will be able to help good tenants without punishing good landlords.
Dziedzic also recently worked on a bill that requires move-in and move-out dates to be clearly agreed upon when initially signing a lease, with the renter’s unit number clearly listed. This bill came in response to complaints coming from tenants in the U of M area who were shown units that were not up for lease, or asked to move out before their lease’s last month was up. The bill fixing those issues passed last year.
For more information about Home Line and their policy advocacy, visit their website at homelinemn.org. Their legal advice hotline can be reached at 612-728-5767.
Also present were representatives from Tenant Navigators, a City of Minneapolis program that has a similar aim to Dziedzic’s 14-day notice bill: to buy time for renters. Demetrice Walker and Darrell Spears work as property inspectors.
“We know a lot of our work orders we write up displace families,” said Spears, explaining that his and Walker’s work with the program ensures that tenants get a chance to bring their homes up to code within a window of time, with links to assistance they may need, before citations are issued.
Katherine Kelly, representing the attorney general’s office, spoke briefly about her office’s work, and what renters can do to ensure equity and justice for themselves and others. Their office cannot represent individuals; however, they do take complaints and reports so they can find patterns in infractions and litigate against bad landlords themselves, so Kelly encouraged renters with concerns to come forward.
Previously, the attorney general’s office didn’t address renting policy issues but current Attorney General Keith Ellison believes renters need just as much protection as any other consumer, according to Kelly. They now issue a publication called “Landlords and Tenants” with more information about their legal services in regards to renting policies. You can sign up for it online at www.ag.state.mn.us/consumer/handbooks/lt/default.asp to have it mailed to your home.
The City of Minneapolis also has a civil rights division that investigates reports from renters who believe they are being discriminated against by their landlords. Their Complaint Investigations Division can be reached at 612-673-3012.
Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid provides legal representation to low- income people, the disabled, and seniors: 612-334-5970.
Hennepin County Emergency Assistance can grant financial aid to people in a crisis that threatens their health or housing: 844-803-8466.
Call 311 for questions about housing codes and inspections, as well as any other questions about city services.