Rising rents and apartment shortages are not just big city problems. They're problems suburban renters are increasingly facing, too.
St. Louis Park's city council unanimously passed its first tenant protection ordinance on Monday night. The ordinance, believed to be the first of its kind in Minnesota, requires landlords to pay the moving expenses of low-income tenants if they decide to raise rents, not renew leases, or re-screen tenants within the first three months of owning a property.
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"What we were trying to do was prevent situations where a new owner comes in, jacks up the rental rates or introduces new screening requirements for renters, and then effectively tells them, 'you're out,'" St. Louis Park Mayor Jake Spano said.
The ordinance only applies to apartment buildings where at least 18 percent of the units are affordable to renters making 60 percent of the area median income. Two-bedroom apartments are considered affordable if they rent for $1,221 per month (including utilities) or less. One-bedroom apartments are affordable if they rent for $1,017 per month or less.
This policy came out of a workgroup of landlords, industry representatives, and tenant advocates, which the city convened after hundreds of renters were displaced when their apartment complex was sold, and the new owner raised rents.
The complex, Meadowbrook Manor, has some 551 units, which were affordable to working-class renters and people on fixed incomes. When the owner sold the property to her son in 2016, his company raised rents by as much as $125 a month, ran background checks on the tenants, and instituted minimum income requirements of 2 f times the monthly rent.
"I had residents who were calling me on my cell and at home asking me to help them find places because they were going to be out of their apartment in just a few days," Spano said. "It doesn't tie the landlord's hands entirely, but I think it does provide . . . low-income renters have some protection in this really really tough climate where you've got vacancy rates hovering around two to three percent."
The ordinance requires landlords to pay anywhere from $2,600 in moving expenses to tenants renting studios up to $4,100 for a three-bedroom unit or larger. Again, the ordinance only applies to tenants renting affordable units and does not apply to landlords who have owned their properties for longer than three months.
This is the second ordinance the city of St. Louis Park has passed to address affordable housing. In 2015, they passed an inclusionary zoning policy that requires new apartment developments to include some affordable units if they receive financing from the city. Michele Schitker, housing supervisor for the city of St. Louis Park, says 54 affordable units have been created as a result.
Spano says other city leaders who are facing affordable housing shortages of their own have already reached out to him to talk about the renter protection ordinance.
"Affordable housing is a regional strategy, and we can't do this on our own," Spano said. "It's going to require other cities to step forward and bring their own creative policies, ones that fit their own community."