Legislature divided over end to COVID-19 eviction rule

A car drives with a sign taped to its side.
A car with the sign "cancel rent" is seen driving around downtown Los Angeles during a protest to cancel rent and avoid evictions amid the pandemic. In Minnesota, the Legislature is debating how to wind down an eviction moratorium ordered by Gov. Tim Walz.
Valerie Macon | AFP via Getty Images 2020

Updated: 12:16 p.m.

A phase-out of curbs on rental housing evictions is creating another rift in the Legislature, where the House and Senate have vastly different plans for what follows a moratorium in place for more than a year.

Evictions have been severely limited under a Gov. Tim Walz executive order during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent people from losing their housing solely as a result of financial struggles. Walz has said he wants an off-ramp in place before lifting the eviction restrictions.

Serious lease breaches, such as destruction of property and other criminal behavior, have been grounds for removal even during the pandemic.

After a 17-10 committee vote Monday, the DFL-led House will vote soon on a bill to stretch out limits on evictions for people behind in rent, to impose rules around lease non renewals, and to restrict the ability of landlords to raise rents in the near term. For the year following the moratorium’s end, the measure would require property owners to give at least two months written notice before eviction and point tenants toward assistance resources.

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“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel but we’re currently still in the tunnel,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. “We don’t want to replace a health crisis with an eviction crisis.”

Her legislation differs from a moratorium pullback bill that easily passed the Republican-led Senate this month, which allows evictions after a month for some renters but puts off most actions for longer than that.

House Republicans say the Hausman bill unfairly constrains landlords, including a provision barring more than one rent increase in a year and capping increases at 6 percent.

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said the bill is skewed too heavily toward renters and doesn’t take into account financial strains on property owners.

“People who own these properties are not able to manage them in the manner in which they see fit,” Nash said. “And that is troubling.”

Cecil Smith, president of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, wrote to lawmakers that the bill goes too far.

“This proposal is not an off-ramp, it is a series of two cliffs,” Smith wrote. “The first cliff will be when eviction filings are allowed to start the day after enactment for breaches of lease, the second cliff will be 60 days after the end of the Governor’s Peacetime Emergency when the bill permits evictions due to nonpayment.”

Members of the Homes For All advocacy coalition vouched for the bill in their own letter.

“This bill recognizes that the emergency may need to continue, while preparing appropriately for the inevitable conclusion of the emergency,” said Sue Koesterman and Chad Adams, the group’s co-chairs. 

Once the House passes a bill, negotiations will begin on a compromise with Senate bill sponsors.

The 2021 session must adjourn by May 17.