Minneapolis City Council has passed an ordinance that seeks to prohibit landlords there from rejecting tenants based on criminal history, prior evictions, or low credit scores.
The contentious measure, dubbed the Renter Protection Ordinance, is similar to a tenant screening law recently passed in Portland, Oregon. It seeks to force landlords to consider applicants who have committed serious crimes such as murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery and arson, if the sentencing for those crimes occurred more than 10 years prior.
It appears from the language of the ordinance that a person could have served more than 10 years in prison for violent crimes and then be eligible for a rental property the day they are released from prison. The ordinance also prevents a landlord from rejecting this applicant due to insufficient credit or lack of rental history, which would result from being incarcerated for a decade or more.
The ordinance does not apply to applicants with certain drug convictions or those on a lifetime sex offender registry.
Lawmakers are betting on a lack of recidivism. However, they are shifting the risk to landlords who have no way to evaluate the applicant’s propensities outside of the prison setting. Landlords are not provided any cover should that gamble not pay off and could be found negligent for exposing other tenants or neighbors to a foreseeable risk of injury. That is not to mention the hit to tenant retention that could result should other tenants feel unsafe.
Minneapolis landlords can sidestep this new screening criteria if the landlord performs an “individualized assessment” that takes into account:
The nature and severity of the grounds for rejection;
The number of such incidents;
The time that has elapsed; and
The age of the individual at the time the incidents occurred.
Landlords already are prohibited under the Fair Housing Act from applying a blanket ban on all criminal history or using screening techniques that unfairly impact minority applicants. In that sense, the Minneapolis ordinance is simply codifying the existing practice. But the expectation is that landlords will use the more permissive option, and that could encourage rental applicants to omit pertinent information from rental applications.
Under the ordinance, landlords also are restricted when using credit scores, eviction history, and rental history in evaluating tenants. The final draft, however, softens the impact of these restrictions by allowing landlords to use credit information that is relevant to the applicant’s ability to pay and recent eviction history in evaluating applicants.
Local landlord associations presented fierce opposition to both this and the Oregon tenant screening measure on the basis that these roadblocks could make neighborhoods less safe and cause an uptick in evictions as underqualified tenants default. There also is concern that the move will discourage investment in rental housing and reduce rental stock inventory.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.