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Landlords aren't happy about Minneapolis plan to soften tenant screenings

Landlords would no longer be able to turn applicants away for having past arrests without convictions, convictions beyond certain benchmarks in the past, or having credit scores below 500.

Landlords would no longer be able to turn applicants away for having past arrests without convictions, convictions beyond certain benchmarks in the past, or having credit scores below 500. Fox 9

A group of landlords gathered together on the corner of Blaisdell Avenue and West 26th Street. They carried colorful signs that read “Safe and affordable neighborhoods Minneapolis,” and they were marshalled by Nichol Beckstrand, president of the Minneapolis Multi-Housing Association.

The association’s concern was a new Minneapolis City Council proposal that, they argue, could put renters and managers in danger. It’s an ordinance championed by Council Members Lisa Bender and Jeremiah Ellison, and it could change the way landlords are allowed to screen potential tenants.

If this ordinance becomes law, landlords would no longer be allowed to turn applicants away because they were convicted of a felony… if that conviction took place more than five years ago. The same goes for misdemeanors more than two years old, and arrests that never resulted in convictions.

They also couldn’t refuse someone just because they didn’t have a robust credit or rental history, or because their credit score is lower than 500. Evictions that occurred more than three years ago would also be out of bounds. 

There are exceptions. Certain sex crimes, arson, and racketeering could still be used as reasons for rejection. But the hope is to make it much easier for people to be eligible for housing, and much harder for landlords to say no. (Neither Bender nor Ellison responded to interview requests.)

The rationale is simple. Minneapolis is going through an affordable housing crisis, and leaders are trying to remove some of the hurdles for residents. (The plan is still in draft form, so it could change.)

Beckstrand didn’t respond to interview requests, but in a letter addressed to the city last month, she worried “dozens of serious, predatory, and otherwise violent criminal convictions” would be “ignore[d]” if this ordinance is passed. People who have stalked somebody armed with a gun or solicited a teen for sex could remain in the applicant pool, she said – as long as they did those things more than two years ago.

Furthermore, she’s not convinced this move will actually help Minneapolis’ housing problem. According to a year-end report by Marquette Advisors, the city’s vacancy rate just squeaked its way to 3.5 percent in 2018 after throwing 4,800 new apartments into the mix.

Meanwhile, for every one of those new apartments, there were seven new jobs. The city needs new, denser housing – period – and the association is arguing that lowering the standards for tenants might dissuade developers from building.

Stiff tenant screening has long been accused of creating a class of “unrentable” Minneapolitans. Nearly one-third of all adult Americans – some 74 million – have some kind of criminal record. To make matters worse, the makeup of these populations is usually disproportionately skewed toward people of color.

“When barriers to housing are at a high and rates of displacement in Minneapolis are exceedingly high, I think that just puts some urgency to support people who are the most vulnerable renters,” Ellison told the Star Tribune.

Still, the draft is not final. A public hearing on the ordinance is expected later this summer.