Right to counsel ordinance

Learn about the proposed ordinance to ensure legal support low-income tenants facing eviction.

The problem we are looking to solve

When renters face the loss of their home in housing court, legal representation makes a critical difference.

In housing court, renters facing eviction rarely have legal support, while landlords almost always do. That means unrepresented renters are much more likely to lose their cases, and their homes, regardless of the merits of their case. [1]

The end of the eviction moratorium could cause a surge of evictions.

Before the statewide eviction moratorium, renters were facing the threat of losing their homes every day in housing court. When the moratorium eventually ends, even more people will be vulnerable to losing their homes. 

While rental assistance has just started to roll out, Minnesota has one of the fastest court eviction processes in the country. This leaves renters with little time to access resources like financial assistance before their case is over.

Evictions have lasting effects on families.

With an eviction on record, it is much harder to find a new home. Evictions can destabilize families and create a cycle of poverty. Being evicted also makes tenants vulnerable to predatory market practices and homelessness, which has increased across the Twin Cities and Minnesota.

BIPOC households are more vulnerable to evictions.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color residents are much likelier to have an eviction filed against them. In fact, single Black mothers face the highest risk of evictions in the US. [2]

Our proposed solution

Right to counsel gives renters a fighting chance.

Passing a Right to Counsel ordinance will ensure legal support for all low-income tenants facing eviction, and disrupt the eviction cycles that push tenants into unsafe housing. Legal representation will help to give tenants more time to access rental assistance to pay past-due rent and reach fair settlements with landlords. Overall, legal representation in Housing Court can interrupt a downward spiral of poverty and racial inequity. [3]

Preventing evictions is fiscally prudent and saves the public money. Studies show that local resources and services are strained by the instability related to evictions. Approximately $5,000 could be saved in sheltering costs per family. [4]

There is also the long-term cost of eviction and displacement. For children, evictions often cause missed school and/or change of school, and unstable housing has been shown to negatively affect their development.

Housing stability also promotes public safety. Neighborhoods and communities are safer when residents are stably housed. Safe, healthy housing promotes positive education and health outcomes for children and adults.

Right to counsel may prevent abuse of the court system.

Investing in the right to counsel could shift landlord behavior and prevent the abuse of housing court. For example, areas of New York City have seen nearly 40% fewer eviction filings after initiating the right to counsel for all tenants. This could mean that when landlords know tenants will have attorneys, they stop using eviction as a bill collection exercise.

Work that has been done to date

The Right to Counsel ordinance builds on a growing body of work to address the challenges facing renters in Minneapolis.

In 2016, the City of Minneapolis Innovation Team produced the report Evictions in Minneapolis [5], which explored the causes and potential solutions for evictions and involuntary displacement.

In May 2018, the City of Minneapolis joined cities from around the country, brought together by PolicyLink, to form the Anti-Displacement Policy Network [6]. One of the key indicators that this initiative identified was “reduction in evictions/foreclosures.” In its problem overview, the resulting report to Council [7] identified that “BIPOCI communities experience higher eviction rates,” and listed as a goal that “Residents renting in zip codes 55411, 55412, and 55404 reside in safe, habitable, affordable, secure/stable, and respectful homes until they choose to leave.”

In March 2019, City Council adopted the Renters First Housing Policy [8], which affirms the City’s commitment to advancing renter protections and developing new tools to support affordability and stability in rental housing.

In July 2019, City Council adopted the first Strategic and Racial Equity Action [9] which identified the policy priority of housing stability with the strategic need to reduce involuntary displacement in rental housing for Black, Indigenous, People of Color and Immigrant communities.

In September 2019, City Council adopted a Renter Protections ordinance [10], which included limitations on tenant screening criteria and a cap on security deposits.

In May 2021, City Council adopted the Fair Notice ordinance [11], which requires landlords to give tenants at least fourteen days’ notice before filing formal eviction paperwork.

The City has provided $650,000 to Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid to provide legal counsel to low-income renters over a two-year period. This funding has helped many tenants achieve better outcomes in housing court.

Timeline

Formal notice of the Right to Counsel proposed ordinance was given on May 28th, 2021. Subject matter referral will occur at the June 17th City Council meeting.