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Minneapolis council members make changes in renter's ordinance, but landlords still not happy

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As a vote on a proposed ordinance finally draws near, some Minneapolis city council members reiterated their commitment to limiting landlords’ screening of rental applicants, based on credit, eviction and criminal histories. That pleased renters and their advocates and angered property owners.

At a city hall press conference Thursday, the move was cheered by folks who say they would be good tenants but unfair screening standards keep them from finding housing.

Lacey Gonzalez said she has paid off all her debts after ruining her credit as a young adult. But a decade later, she said her credit history keeps her from getting a new place to live.

“I'm still denied housing because of that bad credit,” she said. “No landlord has looked further into my credit score to see that I can pay rent. For 10 years, I paid my rent on time every single month.”

City council member Lisa Bender says people like Gonzalez deserve help.

“This ordinance provides the necessary protection for residents by ensuring that they are not exploited and that they have a chance to fairly access housing in our city,” she said.

But landlords complain the draft measure is still onerous and could endanger other tenants and drive up rents.

Dave Ostlund, a member of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association and manager with Baker Management Group with several properties in Minneapolis, said “There still exists a strong possibility of unintended consequences.”

Provisions include a ban on rejecting rental applicants for evictions more than three years old or, in most cases, felony convictions older than seven years. Landlords could reject applicants with first degree arson, assault, and aggravated robbery convictions less than 10 years old.

Landlord Cecil Smith complained that a convicted killer would get better treatment than someone convicted of assault.“Where on this list is murder?”

Jeremiah Ellison discusses a proposed ordinance
Minneapolis city council member Jeremiah Ellison (left) discusses a proposed ordinance about landlords' screening of rental applicants Thursday.
Martin Moylan | MPR News

City council member Jeremiah Ellison, a leading proponent of the measure, said most sentences for murder are 25 years or longer. So, he said it did seem to make sense to create a look-back period for that crime. Ellison also said the recidivism rate for murders, if they are released from prison, is very low.

There will be a public hearing Aug. 28 on the draft ordinance. The city council will likely vote on the measure next month.

The housing association says an independent poll it commissioned found most city residents oppose the limits on landlords. The group wants public meetings in all 13 city wards to discuss the measure.

“If the council doesn't want to hold listening sessions around the city, we'll hold them. And we'll invite the community to give their feedback,” said Smith.

The proposal also limits security deposits to one month’s rent and prohibits screening out tenants by credit scores or insufficient credit history.

Ellison said he wouldn’t be surprised if the ordinance were contested in court, if enacted.

“We've been legally challenged, I think, on every progressive ordinance that has come to the city,” he said. “But this ordinance is something that the city can stand behind.”