(FOX 9) – In January 2022, Brianna Berger reluctantly emptied her belongings from her Big Lake rental home. She was evicted after falling behind on rent as of October 2021.
“I had COVID for basically the entire month, so I couldn’t do much work in that month and I didn’t get any income,” Berger said.
She applied for emergency rental assistance through RentHelpMN, a program created to help Minnesota renters during the pandemic. It was a step that she believed would prevent an eviction based solely on nonpayment.
“Someone has to step up and change things because there are thousands of people, I’m sure, who are worse off than me and don’t have a voice,” Berger said.
Berger’s case reveals a loophole that some landlords have exploited to circumvent one of the last remaining pandemic protections against evictions. The maneuver does not require any proof that the tenant has broken any rules or done anything wrong.
“Her case is really indicative of an ongoing problem that has been around since before the pandemic, but has been exacerbated by it,” said Rachael Sterling, COVID-19 eviction response coordinator at HOME Line, which helps tenants to know their rights.
“There’s not a lot that tenants can necessarily do to protect themselves in that case because there’s nothing illegal about it. Unethical, maybe… unethical, possibly, but nothing illegal,” Sterling said.
Evictions ‘off the books’
In Berger’s case, her eviction was first triggered by an eviction notice, which can be issued at the end of a lease or at any time during a monthly or verbal agreement. The notice is often used as an easier “unofficial” eviction, because it does not require any justification.
“Minnesota law doesn’t require that, in normal times, a landlord have any motive,” Sterling told FOX 9 investigators. “It could be that there are clouds in the sky today, and I don’t feel like being a landlord anymore, And here’s your notice that you have to be out in 30 or 60 days, and there’s nothing stopping you from doing it.” . “
When Berger didn’t leave, that triggered an eviction process that only required a ‘notice to vacate’ as reason for eviction.
It’s been four months since Berger’s eviction, and she told FOX 9 investigators that she now lives with a friend because she hasn’t been able to find a place of her own with an eviction on her record.
“An eviction is more or less the same as a felony and it was pretty hard to find the place it was at,” Berger said. “I feel like no one is on my side.”
Brianna Berger was evicted from her rental home in October. 2021 (FOX 9)
Interest Rate Reform Tips
There are some signs of tenant reform on the horizon, depending on where you live.
In Brooklyn Center, the city council recently adopted an ordinance that would require “fair case” when giving an eviction notice. Possible reasons could include: non-payment of rent, breach of the lease, renewal of the property, or the tenant refusing to renew or extend their lease.
In a virtual hearing at the Brooklyn Center, one tenant spoke out: “You shouldn’t be sending letters to people who don’t have a lease violation who have been here for two years and have been very quiet, people who do pay their rent. . or they want to get people out because they’ve gotten help from COVID.”
However, some owners criticize the change at Brooklyn Center.
“We have a harder time dealing with problem tenants,” said Bob Gardner, who manages about 180 properties throughout the Northwest metro, including in Brooklyn Center.
“We would never evict a tenant without a case,” Gardner said, adding that the new ordinance places an undue burden on landlords.
“In all cases, we have reasons: We are now required by law to go through a formal process that takes longer. And it also leaves us legally exposed. A lot of these things are really hard to prove,” Gardner. saying.
Efforts in the Legislature
At the Minnesota State Capitol, there have been some efforts to push for tenants’ rights, including legislation that would require “just cause” to terminate tenancy.
Senator Lindsey Port is a co-sponsor of SF 4317, which has effectively stalled in the Legislature.
While the state does not track the number of informal termination clauses, Port estimates the overall impact is substantial.
“We hope that there are thousands of families in Minnesota that could be protected by policies like this, which really take into account not only the rights of landlords, but also the rights of tenants, which frankly is not something that we have addressed in the legislature. in any real way,” Port said.
Senator Lindsey Port speaks with Fox investigator Nathan O’Neal (FOX 9)
He points to the lack of appetite among lawmakers and the powerful influence of lobbyists.
“Tenants who have verbal agreements for their leases, they don’t have a lobbyist. They don’t have a voice here on Capitol Hill that speaks for them,” Port said. “We have a number of landlords who are members of both the House and the Senate. In fact, several of them are on the housing committee. That voice is well represented, and I think we need to do a better job of raising the voices of renters.” of average Minnesotans who are experiencing this kind of thing.
Senator Port promises to bring the issue up again during the next legislative session.