St. Paul City Council members voted Wednesday to adopt new tenant-screening guidelines and other requirements for landlords, a move they’re hoping will help more residents find housing and avoid displacement.
The council voted 7-0 to limit how landlords use prospective tenants’ prior evictions, credit scores or criminal history records when considering applicants who want to live in their properties.
The vote comes nearly a year after the Minneapolis City Council adopted similar policies. St. Paul council members are hoping the changes will help residents in the renter-majority city find housing, particularly for people of color, low-income people and formerly incarcerated people.
The vote also comes as Minnesota residents, City Council members and housing advocates are bracing for a potential wave of evictions and foreclosures once the statewide ban expires.
St. Paul Council Member Mitra Jalali, the sponsor for the ordinance, said its passage “couldn’t have come at a better time” and is the product of two years of work by a variety of agency workers, council members, tenants and more.
“This global pandemic has illuminated housing access as an essential public health issue to limit exposure to COVID and protect our vulnerable neighbors,” Jalali said. “The economic fallout from this pandemic will leave many of our neighborhoods vulnerable to speculation and turnover and renters in dire need of the protections this ordinance offers.”
While tenant rights advocates have praised the ordinance as giving prospective renters a chance to find housing if they’ve had troubles in the past, landlords have raised concerns about being unable to maximize information available and potentially putting their other tenants in harm’s way.
They’ve also expressed concern about how some tenants can saddle them with high costs over time for property damage, unpaid rent and eventual housing court filing fees. The ordinance also changes how insufficient rental history is used and caps security deposits at a month’s rent.
Some landlords are also displeased about the ordinance’s “just cause” provision, requiring them to provide reasons why they’re terminating a tenant’s lease.
Under the ordinance, landlords are unable to deny an applicant on the basis of a misdemeanor if the conviction is older than three years or because of a felony older than seven years.
Landlords can still deny applicants who are convicted of distributing or manufacturing controlled substances and anyone on the lifetime sex offender registration. It allows denials in cases of murder, kidnapping, arson, assault or robbery, manslaughter and criminal sexual conduct convictions older than 10 years.
The ordinance goes into effect March 1.