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Bill would prohibit eviction for nonpayment if tenant has applied for rental assistance

María Isa Pérez-Vega

María Isa Pérez-Vega

In a single night in January of last year, almost 8,000 Minnesotans were homeless. A bill in the House of Representatives looks to eviction as a leading cause of homelessness and aims to curb evictions in specific cases.

HF 602 prohibits housing providers from evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent when that tenant has a pending application for rental assistance. Rep. María Isa Pérez-Vega (DFL-St. Paul) is the chief author on the bill and presented it to a House of Representatives housing committee last week, which laid it over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill down the road.

“We can stave off the unnecessary crisis of homelessness and work to restore livability for families rather than further stressing a broken shelter system,” Pérez-Vega said in the committee hearing.

She said the bill, which has 35 authors and a Senate companion, gives eligible renters an opportunity to apply for programs for which they are eligible and gives landlords the opportunity to receive the rent payments they are due.

Bernadette Hornig, a partner at rental housing provider Hornig Companies, said she agrees with the spirit of the bill. “My only concern is that … it’s hard to control how long it takes these applications to be processed,” she said in the meeting.

She said the process can drag on for up to a year, and she sees the bill as government creating more rules without holding itself accountable. An amendment offered by Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge) and slightly changed by Pérez-Vega works to address that.

Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson

“When we had the pandemic relief fund for the housing providers, we missed the mark on that,” Johnson said in the meeting. “We didn’t have any timeline. Didn’t have any requirements on both parts.”

He said some tenants would start an application and never complete it, so it was always ‘pending.’ His amendment requires the tenant and landlord to cooperate with the organization offering assistance “in a timely manner.”

The committee heard about the housing crisis in the prior week. More than 110,000 Minnesotans do not have any affordable housing options and 570,000 households spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

Ron Elwood, a supervising attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance, said some of the housing struggles are driven by unaffordability, the disparity between need and availability of rental assistance, the court process and the challenge of finding housing with an eviction on a tenant’s record.

The committee heard that one in 30 renter households across the state faced an eviction last year.

Mary Kaczorek, a managing attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, called HF 602 a “win, win, win.”

“It’s a win for renters because they get a fair shake in their eviction case,” she said in last week’s meeting. “It’s a win for the government who has the opportunity and the time to process applications for help … and it’s win for landlords because landlords have a better shot at getting paid at the end of the day.”


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