Student renters trapped in leases for unfinished apartments may find some relief

Person speaks in front of building
Minneapolis City Council member Robin Wonsley announced at a press conference in front of Identity Dinkytown that she will be proposing a new ordinance allowing renters to break their leases if their housing unit isn't ready for the move-in date on Wednesday.
Nicole Ki | MPR News

Student renters locked in leases for apartments they can’t move into may finally find some relief. A proposed ordinance may help them get out of those rental agreements.

On Wednesday, Minneapolis City Councilmember Robin Wonsley said she would introduce a measure that would let renters exit pre-leasing contracts if their housing unit is not ready for move-in.

The measure, which she plans to propose at a meeting Thursday, comes after construction delays for a new apartment building called Identity Dinkytown forced more than 100 University of Minnesota students to find other accommodations at the start of the school year.

“We are proud in Ward 2 to be a home to thousands of students,” she said. “But we are here standing today to say that we are not proud to be a home to predatory corporate developers who build substandard housing, and then exploit workers and then go on to charge egregious rates of rent to working-class students,” said Wonsley, who represents the neighborhoods surrounding the university.

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Identity Dinkytown was originally slated to open on Aug. 27, but delayed move-in multiple times. According to the Star Tribune, some tenants moved in while others are still waiting for their units to be finished.

CA Student Living, Identity’s management team, said in a statement that “Identity Dinkytown has been working diligently to welcome all residents in as efficient a manner as we can.”

“At this point, we have moved in a majority of residents, including all students on floors 4-6 as planned. We look forward to moving in the remaining floors through the end of October and into early November. We apologize for any inconvenience these delays have caused,” said a CA Student Living spokesperson.

Identity is paying displaced students $150 a day to help cover another rental or $80 a day for hotel accommodations.

That hasn’t kept student Elena Mathern from having to take out a loan to make ends meet.

People walk on sidewalk
U of M students walk along the unfinished apartment complex of Identity Dinkytown in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
Nicole Ki

She was one of the renters who signed a pre-leasing agreement with Identity in 2022. She and her roommates have taken on a short-term lease at another apartment complex nearby.

That means she’s paying two rents: one for the apartment she’s currently living in until December and one for Identity.

“I know that future me will really regret this moment,” Mathern said. “But it's a learning lesson. I'll probably never sign for an apartment that's not done again.”

University of Minnesota Board of Regents member Robyn Gulley said the issue with Identity is of top priority for her.

“I'm committed to working on the Board of Regents to do what we can to put guardrails on development projects, and do what we can to protect our students and make sure that they are safe and they're taken care of,” Gulley said.

Councilmember Wonsley said she hopes her proposed ordinance allowing renters to back out of pre-leasing agreements for incomplete units will be passed before the end of the year and go into effect in early 2024.

“It should have been something in place years ago, but we heard loud and clear from renters who went through this experience with Identity that having a policy like this in place would have made such a huge difference for them,” Wonsley said.