ST. PAUL — A pair of bills making its way through the Minnesota Legislature has divided a tenant's rights group and an association for property managers.
One would require landlords to give their lessees more notice when filing for eviction. The other would make it easier for evicted renters to wipe their court records clean.
Both are supported by Home Line, which offers free and low-cost legal resources to Minnesota, and opposed by the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, a statewide trade group. In a recent interview, Home Line executive director Eric Hauge said that the bills could help level what some see as an uneven playing field.
But, if enacted, they would be a burden for responsible landlords, according to Multi Housing Association president Cecil Smith.
"There are undoubtedly people who are poor and deficient operators," Smith said recently. "But most professional managers take their customer service and the product they deliver very seriously."
House File 1972 would require landlords to send written notices to their tenants at least 14 days before they can file for eviction in court. In theory, that would give renters more time to work out a solution with their landlords and even seek legal help.
According to Home Line, Minnesota is one of only seven states that does not require such notices to be sent. Tenants in Minnesota, meanwhile, are required to provide a 14-day notice to their landlords before they can be sued for failing to repair rented property.
While Hauge said that many landlords in the state already provide the notices on an informal basis, "there’s a difference between being regulated and being obligated to provide such a notice."
The bill has yet to make it out of the state House committee on Housing Finance and Policy, where it was referred to after being introduced last year. But H.F. 1511, also introduced last year, passed out of the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law committee on Monday, Feb. 24.
The measure, which has not yet been taken up for a vote, would make it easier for people to expunge prior evictions listed on their court records, which can make it difficult to obtain rental housing. It would require future eviction cases that were dismissed or didn't result in an eviction judgement to be sealed, and mandate evictions more than three years old to be tossed.
Smith said the pair of bills poses a headache to landlords for several reasons. For one thing, he said, eviction is a last resort that property managers pursue only when all other efforts to resolve tenant conflicts have failed. That is partly because it is expensive: it costs $350 to file for eviction in Minnesota, not including other legal fees.
Adding another two weeks to the eviction process with written notices, Smith said, would needlessly delay a seldom-used procedure that is painful for all parties involved.
"We’re not dispassionate people about this," Smith said.
Obscuring court records, Smith said, would also weaken the ability of property managers to screen out potentially irresponsible tenants.
Still, nearly 18,000 eviction cases were filed in Minnesota in 2019, according to the state Court Information System. And that number has remained about flat for roughly the past 10 years, according to data from Princeton University's Eviction Lab project.
Of the cases filed in 2019, about 6,700 judgments resulted in eviction.
Together, the bills strike at what Hauge said is a power balance that favors property owners and managers. Smith said he disagrees, and that talk of a power dynamic serves mostly to politicize landlord-tenant relationships.
Little action has been taken on the versions of the bills introduced in the state Senate last year. Rep. Hodan Hassan, the primary sponsor of the House versions, could not immediately be reached for comment.