This story comes to you from Sahan Journal through a partnership with MPR News.
By Katelyn Vue | Sahan Journal
Although Minnesota is one of the coldest states in which to live, it’s long had no statewide law requiring landlords to maintain a minimum temperature for rental units. That changed with this year’s legislative session.
Starting next year, Minnesota landlords will be required to keep rental units at a minimum of 68 degrees from October to April. It’s one example of a shift toward supporting Minnesota tenants’ rights.
“Although we have more to do to ensure that tenants are not in a power imbalance, these new laws are large strides in the right direction,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in an emailed statement.
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The history of landlord-tenant laws in Minnesota dates back to the 1850s, when they dealt mostly with disputes involving territory and agricultural land. Since then, significant changes to landlord-tenant laws have been few and far between, said Larry McDonough, who has nearly four decades of experience with housing laws.
“When I look at the number of things that were passed this year, and the significance of each of them, no other year comes close,” he said. McDonough is a policy attorney for HOME Line, a nonprofit that provides free and low-cost organizing, education, and advocacy services to renters.
When I look at the number of things that were passed this year [on landlord-tenant relations], and the significance of each of them, no other year comes close.- Renters’ rights advocate Larry McDonough
Some of the new landlord-tenant laws are highly technical, and most won’t be in effect until next year. Here’s a roundup of some of the new laws:
Fewer landlord-enforced rules:
No forced pet declawing or devocalization: If pets are allowed in a rental unit, the landlord cannot require tenants to declaw or devocalize their pets. (Devocalization is a surgical procedure that removes tissue from dogs’ vocal cords to reduce the noise of barking.) This law will take effect on January 1, 2024.
No forced early lease renewal: This law says landlords cannot require tenants to renew their lease until there are only six months left before it expires. The new law applies only if a lease is longer than 10 months. For example, if a tenant’s lease expires on June 1, then a landlord must wait until December 1 of the previous year to require the tenant to decide whether or not to renew a lease for another term. This law goes into effect on January 1.
Cannabis: Landlords cannot ban tenants from having cannabis in their rental unit; however, they can still ban smoking/vaping. This law has been in effect since August 1. For more information about changes to the state law on cannabis, check out this story.
Changes to the eviction process:
More flexibility in scheduling eviction trial dates: Typically, tenants are made aware of the trial date of an eviction filed by their landlord within seven to 14 days. If the tenant disagrees or wants to share their side of the story, they must appear in court on the trial date. But effective January 1, the court can select a trial date based on new factors, including:
The level of complexity.
Providing sufficient time for tenants to seek legal counsel.
Providing sufficient time for attorneys to exchange information and gather witnesses to appear at the trial date.
Eviction expungement is easier to access: This new state law, which goes into effect on January 1, allows judges to order an eviction expungement based on new factors, including:
Tenant wins the eviction case.
Eviction case is dismissed.
Eviction was ordered three or more years ago.
Landlord and tenant agree to an expungement.
After the tenant fulfills the landlord’s terms and the eviction case is settled, the tenant can request for an expungement.
14-day notice to tenants before eviction for nonpayment: Landlords must provide a 14-day notice to tenants before filing an eviction for nonpayment. The notice is required to include how much the tenant owes, how to find financial help, and more. This new state law will go into effect on January 1.
Minor crimes by tenants away from rental property cannot lead to eviction or penalty: Minor crimes away from the rental property, such as trespassing, cannot be the basis for an eviction or penalty. This law goes into effect on June 1, 2024.
Right to legal counsel for tenants in public housing: Tenants who live in public housing have the right to free legal representation in eviction cases that are not on the basis of nonpayment. This law has been in effect since August 1.
Expanded list for emergency repairs: This new state law, which goes into effect on January 1, has added new types of emergencies that landlords will be required to immediately address. These are new emergencies that tenants can bring to court for relief and compel the landlord to make repairs. Among them are:
Non-functioning elevators, if included in the tenant’s lease.
Non-functioning air conditioners, if included in the tenant’s lease.
Ending leases for medical emergencies: Tenants can break a lease with two months’ notice if a medical care professional has found that the tenant needs to move into a medical care facility, such as a nursing home. This law goes into effect on January 1.
Transparency to tenants:
Right to request move-in and move-out inspections: Tenants can request an inspection by the landlord at the time of move-in and move-out to avoid future deductions from the security deposit. The tenant has the right to be present at the move-out inspection. This law goes into effect on January 1.
Penalty and rules for landlord entry: Landlords must provide 24-hour notice to the tenant before entering a rental unit, and include details such as a specified time or anticipated window of time. Unless the landlord and tenant agree on an earlier or later time, the landlord may enter only between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. The penalty is $500 for each violation. This law goes into effect on January 1.
Non-optional fees must be disclosed on the lease: Rent and all non-optional fees must be called “Total Monthly Payment” by landlords and listed on the front page of the lease agreement. Any advertisement of a rental unit must also state the non-optional fees included with the total amount of rent. This law goes into effect on January 1.
Reaction from advocates
McDonough said he has advocated for eight years for a state law establishing the right for tenants in public housing to have free access to legal representation. Cases not involving non-payment of rent are usually more complicated and the tenant is more in need of legal assistance, he said.
Ellison said he was “especially glad” to see that landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants for minor crimes committed away from their rental property.
“So-called crime-free lease provisions and ordinances have perpetuated and even magnified the racial disparities we know are present in our criminal justice system without any measurable benefit to the community,” he said.
Ellison’s office will revise its landlord-tenant publication late this month, and again in January. HOME Line has hosted public monthly webinars focusing on new state laws. To find out more and register to attend a webinar, check out this link.
It can be challenging to spread the word about the new laws, especially for non-English speakers, said Julie Martinez, Minneapolis community relations specialist. She works on the city’s renters’ rights campaign, which was launched last April, to improve access to information about renters’ rights for renters and property owners.
Martinez said the city will host culturally specific events this fall focusing on renters’ rights, the work of city housing liaisons, and how renters can report violations of landlord-tenant laws.
McDonough said more needs to be done to better balance the rights of tenants and landlords in Minnesota. “But what’s being done this year is the biggest movement toward that balance in the history of the state,” he said.