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MN renters need stronger protections, advocates tell House panel

Minnesota renters could be better protected from intrusive landlords, financially prohibitive security deposits, unreasonable cold and other emergencies, advocates told a House committee Thursday.

Tenant-aid groups explained gaps in Minnesota's renter laws to the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee, which expects to consider a package of renter-protection measures this year.

Minnesota law says rental housing must be kept in reasonable repair, a statute that is vague and outdated, advocates said.

In addition, renters can have a difficult time finding housing because of criminal records, low credit scores, low incomes and Section 8 housing vouchers — factors more likely to affect people of color.

Advocates also said some renters face complicated lease terms and that getting landlords to address critical livability issues can be financially prohibitive.

Minnesota does not limit security deposits, which can put housing out of reach for potential renters. Additionally, some landlords insert vague-sounding fees into leases, instead of raising rents, said Amaris Carrión, a housing attorney with HOME Line, a tenant-advocacy organization.

She also said Minnesota's privacy law — which requires landlords to give "reasonable" notice before entering a unit — is vague and has led to intrusive situations, such as property owners walking in on sleeping renters.

Larry McDonough, an attorney focused on renters' rights, said state law could better define emergency situations in which landlords must make repairs.

He also said a lot of renters who are facing crucial livability issues are forced to pay rent in full before defending their cases in court. Filing fees to get a judge to take emergency action can be cost prohibitive, he added.

Lawmakers said they also want to focus this session on the estimated 80,000 renting households who could face eviction once the statewide ban is lifted.

Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud) said she wished the hearing would have included testimony from landlords, adding that she doesn't think there is enough focus on building relationships between them and their tenants.

Theis, a landlord herself, said she tries to be respectful of tenant privacy and that landlords want to avoid evictions, too. She added that landlords haven't been doing as well as hoped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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