Landlords in Minnesota now have slightly more options for evicting tenants under the governor’s mandate, which has only allowed removing tenants under the most extreme circumstances.
Executive order 20-79, which Gov. Tim Walz announced mid-July, went into effect Aug. 4. The newest update to the eviction ban allows landlords to evict tenants who have “significantly damaged property” or if the property manager or their family needs to move in. Tenants can still be evicted if they “seriously” endanger the safety of others or engage in other illegal activity, such as prostitution or drug use on the property.
Nonpayment evictions still banned
The modifications are among the handful of tweaks Walz has made since the eviction moratorium went into effect late March. “These are definitely very narrow exceptions,” said Mike Vraa, director of HOME Line’s free legal aid hotline for renters. The executive order still bans evictions for nonpayment of rent, which is the most common reason for eviction.
Vraa said landlords who try to use the exception to evict tenants for not paying rent will likely be shot down by the court. “What I don’t think a landlord can do is say, ‘OK, I’m gonna use a ‘significantly damaging the property’ argument, plus they still owe rent for the last five months.’ I don’t think the judge is going to let [landlords] get to that.”
Without extending the peacetime emergency beyond Aug. 12, which Walz has announced he will, the order would have been in effect for just eight days. Since the federal eviction moratorium lapsed July 25, Minnesota’s executive order is what stands between renters and evictions.
“[Eviction is] really the one tool in the landlord’s box that matters,” Vraa said. “They can try to implement fines and things like that, but in the end a landlord filing an eviction is the real tool they have. And so they can’t use that, and that is the giant shadow over all of landlord tenant law in Minnesota, until that moratorium gets lifted. But it’s gonna get lifted eventually.”
$100 million for housing assistance
After months of delay in the Legislature, Walz also allocated $100 million to establish a housing assistance program to buoy low-income households. Elizabeth Glidden, director of strategic initiatives and policy at the Minnesota Housing Partnership, sees the modifications as part of a balancing act as the pandemic drags on.
“The governor looks to figure out that balance between continuing to protect renters and tenants and in kind of allowing, I guess, what others might call business as usual. Are we ready for business as usual, and I guess we’re not. But the question is, how does he make his way to that point?” Glidden said.
The modifications also include some new renter protections, such as requiring landlords to give tenants seven days notice, or possibly more, before filing an eviction. Prior to the pandemic, Minnesota law did not require landlords to notify tenants at all if they were filing for eviction.
“I think there’s a lot of concern. I hear ‘How am I supposed to pay my bills?’ I hear that the property taxes are due,” said Kim Tennyson, an attorney specializing in real estate and evictions and adjunct at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. “It’s getting hard to deal for everybody. Landlords want their money and tenants don’t have it.”
Guidance sought on interpretation
Attorneys are still looking for more guidance from the governor’s office about how to interpret the modifications.
Tennyson said it’s not apparent what the landlord would have to prove to evict a tenant in order to allow them or their family member to move in.
“I don’t see anything in there that discusses the need or the reasoning of why somebody would need to move into the property. Financial need, maybe … ‘I just can’t make it, I’m going to lose this property, I’m not getting paid, either,’” Tennyson said. “I don’t know how it might be used or misused.”
The biggest concern for attorneys largely comes down to an issue of wording. The order states that landlords must notify tenants seven days prior to filing an eviction action, or the “notice period” of the lease, whichever is longer. However, “notice period” generally means how much heads-up landlords need to give before ending a lease, which may be 30 or 60 days in advance, Vraa said.
“We’re wondering if that’s what the governor really meant, was to make landlords have to give a 30 or 60 day notice to file an eviction for endangering the safety of others. I don’t think that’s really what the governor meant so there’s some clarification that we’re asking for.”
“Whatever this order is doing, it’s not making everything crystal clear to the people that work in this world.”
A spokesperson for Walz’s office said the governor will continue working with stakeholders on the executive order.
Overall, the eviction process will move more slowly in the housing courts, which are already facing a backlog of cases from before the pause on evictions, Tennyson said. Evictions filed before the eviction moratorium can also now proceed.
At a virtual HOME Line presentation in mid-July, Fourth Judicial District court referee Melissa Houghtaling said 315 eviction cases were filed in April and March that were on pause or not permissible under the governor’s executive orders.
The end of the eviction moratorium looms largest on the minds of housing experts, however.
Nearly 6,000 evictions ‘bottled up’
Vraa estimates that more than 5,800 evictions have been “bottled up” since the start of the executive order, with nearly 1,200 more each month as the peacetime emergency continues. The actual number of evictions filed could be much higher.
Based on the average number of eviction filings for residential homes in 2019, Houghtaling predicted that 2,000 evictions could be filed in Hennepin County alone within the first few days after the peacetime emergency’s end. She added that the county could see filings potentially exceeding the 2008 economic recession – nearly 11,000.
Glidden, of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, will be watching the federal government closely to see if any more aid is distributed to ward off the mass evictions. State and local governments have been funneling funding towards housing assistance, but those were meant to be a bridge for more consistent federal help, she said.
“As we approach this cliff with not knowing what the federal government is going to do … we do know those funding sources will only go so far.”
Glidden added that even if lawmakers reach an agreement, the gap between the end of the unemployment benefits and any new assistance will still result in “some significant ripple effects that we can’t really fully comprehend until we start seeing them, but we know they will be there.”