Photo by Will Jacott/Minnesota Reformer.
A group representing some 1,900 landlords in Minnesota filed suit in federal court on Monday to end the moratorium Gov. Tim Walz placed on evictions through executive order in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit came on the same day state lawmakers reached an agreement on an eviction moratorium “off ramp,” which would return the state to pre-pandemic eviction rules 105 days after it’s signed into law.
“The fact is that the governor implemented the eviction moratorium, and he can end it — but he hasn’t done so,” Cecil Smith, CEO of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, said in a statement. “We have been overly patient, and our residents and the housing providers of Minnesota cannot wait any longer. We have to seek relief from the court.”
The Minnesota Multi Housing Association filed the lawsuit with four property managers — StuartCo, Eagle Creek Townhomes, Woodridge Apartments of Eagan and Guardian Property Management — alleging that the governor’s eviction moratorium is unconstitutional by interfering with the rights of landlords to enforce the contracts they make with tenants.
The lawsuit also alleges that Minnesota landlords are unable to maintain clean and safe properties because they’re unable to remove problem tenants. This has resulted in a loss of income as other tenants have moved out to flee their neighbors, according to the lawsuit.
Although the eviction moratorium allows landlords to evict tenants who are dangerous to other tenants or cause significant property damage, the suit claims the governor’s executive order lacks clear definitions of either scenario, and landlords complain it has been difficult to get their cases heard by a judge.
Walz banned evictions early in the pandemic in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC currently has implemented its own national moratorium on evictions, set to expire on June 30, for individuals earning less than $99,000 a year, who have lost income and have tried to obtain government assistance.
A study last winter linked hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 infections to evictions in states after they lifted their moratoriums.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Walz responded to the lawsuit by saying the governor wants to see the moratorium end and has worked with the legislature on finding a way to do so.
“Gov. Walz is committed to ending the eviction moratorium in a way that keeps Minnesotans safe and ensures certainty and stability for tenants and landlords,” spokeswoman Claire Lancaster said. “That is why his administration has worked with the Legislature on an off-ramp that takes a phased approach to safely ending the eviction moratorium.”
The eviction moratorium off-ramp agreed to by lawmakers in the state House and Senate would allow evictions 15 days after it’s signed into law for material breaches of lease agreements other than nonpayment of rent, such as smoking indoors or having a pet when prohibited.
Renters behind on rent could be evicted 105 days after the law is implemented unless they have a pending application for rental assistance.
Minnesota has received around $672 million from the federal government for emergency rental assistance, more than 10 times the annual budget of Minnesota Housing, which has struggled to quickly distribute the money to landlords.
As of Friday, the state had paid out $4.9 million to 832 residents, according to a spokeswoman with Minnesota Housing.
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