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Some St. Paul landlords fight tenant protection ordinance

Some St. Paul landlords are fighting against the city’s proposed tenant protection ordinance, saying it will make it harder for good property owners who provide much-needed affordable housing to stay in business.

The ordinance, which the City Council could approve in early April, would create new regulations for landlords including limiting security deposits and tenant screening and requiring advance notice before a property is put on the market.

Chue Kue, who owns seven units on the East Side, said he first learned about the proposed ordinance three weeks ago, on Facebook. He and other small property owners have organized in opposition, and plan to testify at a public hearing on the ordinance later this month.

Kue, who said he grew up in public housing, said he’s worried new regulations will push landlords out of the affordable housing market and worsen the city’s housing shortage. City officials should instead find ways to incentivize landlords, he said.

“It doesn’t seem like they’re understanding the consequences,” he said.

The ordinance would create five requirements for landlords: providing information about renters’ rights and responsibilities at lease signing; charging no more than one month’s rent as a security deposit; using standardized criteria for screening a tenant’s rental, criminal and credit history; alerting the city before putting a property on the market; and giving just cause for nonrenewal of a lease or termination of tenancy.

Leasing manager Sandy’Ci Moua said she wants tenants in the properties she oversees to be happy and proud of where they live and stay for years, but the proposed ordinance goes too far. Small businesses like hers need more leeway to screen problematic tenants or pay for repairs when a property is damaged, she said.

“I want renters to be empowered,” Moua said, “but this is not the way.”

The Minnesota Multi Housing Association, which represents property owners across the state, expressed “serious concerns” in a statement after Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher and Council Member Mitra Jalali announced the ordinance Wednesday. Though association members provided feedback, the statement said, “despite soliciting housing providers’ expertise they didn’t heed it.”

Jalali, who is a renter, said she’s open to suggestions but has mostly heard complaints about the city’s process.

“We’ve made a really deliberate effort to shape this,” she said. “You have to balance process with making a difference toward a better status quo, and I do think that there is a risk of waylaying the best ideas in process indefinitely to satisfy everyone, in a way that actually isn’t in the best interests of our residents.”

Not all landlords are opposed, particularly when it comes to tenant screening. John Slade, who rents out a single-family home on the East Side, said he “was shocked by how much information I was able to get” through a standard background check.

Eric Foster, who owns a four-unit building and an apartment above his Payne Avenue restaurant, said he’s mostly concerned about whether a tenant will pay rent on time.

“There’s lots of people that have some kind of bad period in their life when they do bad things and then they figure it out and turn their life around,” he said, “and it doesn’t seem to me like that should mean you can’t have a decent place to live.”

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