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Minneapolis City Council overhauls ordinance that city official say ‘criminalizes’ tenants

November 3, 2018 GMT

No one should face eviction from their apartment for reporting domestic abuse or a health emergency, the Minneapolis City Council decided Friday as it changed a city nuisance property law.

Changes to the “conduct on licensed premises” ordinance will overhaul how the city handles police calls that have led landlords to evict numerous tenants over the years. The amendment will provide protections for tenants and resources for landlords that would help them maintain their rental licenses.

Police and city inspectors won’t take actions against landlords in situations that involve reports of domestic abuse or health-related emergencies or tenants facing similar predicaments. And it sets up a system to resolve disputes without eviction.

“This is really, honestly, the beginning of the work,” Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, the chief sponsor of the change, said in an interview. “Now the implementation is really where the rubber meets the road.”

The ordinance, passed in 1990 during the crack cocaine epidemic, was intended to penalize landlords for nuisance or criminal behavior occurring at their properties. Landlords were often forced to remedy the problem by evicting tenants or risk losing their rental licenses. City officials say that led to unintended consequences, such as victims of domestic violence getting kicked out of their homes after calling 911 for help.

“This is an ordinance that’s transformational for the most vulnerable renters in our city,” Council President Lisa Bender said at Friday’s meeting. “It’s part of a body of work that’s shifting away from looking at rental properties as a problem to be solved in a neighborhood and looking at renters as valuable members of our city who are deserving of protection and support.”

Cunningham and Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said the original ordinance has traditionally “criminalized” tenants who were mostly people of color.

“Over half of the calls related to the Conduct on Licensed Premises ordinance came from eight neighborhoods on the North Side,” Cunningham said in a statement. “Crime data supported that the process as it existed was ineffective in addressing chronic criminal and disruptive behavior in our residential areas.”

The amended ordinance decentralizes its enforcement, which was controlled by a single police crime prevention specialist. It also gives landlords and tenants more time to resolve issues without eviction.

All cases will go before a review panel of city staff and community members for “quality assurance purposes,” such as data collection, Cunningham said.

Mukhtar M. Ibrahim • 612-673-4689