Landlords sue Minneapolis over tenant screening restrictions

Minneapolis City Hall. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The owners of more than 40 rental properties are suing the city of Minneapolis over a newly enacted ordinance that limits what landlords may consider when screening prospective renters.

Under the rules, which took effect on June 1, landlords may not screen out prospective tenants for misdemeanors older than three years, certain felonies older than seven years and violent felonies, like murder and assault, older than 10 years. Landlords also may not deny rental applications for evictions older than three years, a lack of rental history or poor credit.

The screening limits were part of a slew of renter protections the City Council approved in 2019 in an effort to remove barriers to housing that disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color as the city grapples with an on-going affordable housing shortage.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this month, landlords argue the rules are unconstitutional, infringing on their right to decide who lives in their properties. The landlords in the case also argue the ordinance prevents them from ensuring the safety of their properties and other tenants and forces them to assume a large financial risk, especially since the new renter protections also cap security deposits at one month’s rent.

“The cumulative effect of the ordinance’s various provisions severely cripples an owner’s ability to avoid problem tenants and protect its other tenants, and is also profoundly unfair to applicants with exemplary records,” according to the lawsuit.

The landlords, represented by lawyers at the firm Cozen O’Connor, are asking the court to deem the ordinance invalid and make the city to pay yet-to-be-determined damages to them. They’re also asking the court to temporarily block the ordinance during the lawsuit, which a judge will consider in October.

This is the second major lawsuit against the city in recent years for regulating landlords’ screening criteria. Landlords also sued the city over an ordinance that bans them from rejecting tenants because they receive public assistance, such as Section 8 vouchers. That case went to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which sided with the city in July.

St. Paul’s city council passed similar screening criteria earlier this year, which could face similar legal challenges.

*This story was updated for clarity. Some landlords control multiple legal entities named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. John Edwards of Wedge Live mapped the properties here.

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.