Renters, Advocates and Legislative Champions Call for Tenant Protections

From Rochester to Coon Rapids, from Brooklyn Center to the West Side of Saint Paul, renters are coming together to identify common concerns — and play a central role in solving Minnesota’s housing crisis. But that expertise and solidarity is threatened by outdated state laws that allow landlords and developers to undermine organizing efforts, unjustly evict tenants and discriminate against Minnesotans because of where they come from or how they pay their rent. 

At the capitol on Wednesday, renters, advocates and state lawmakers called for the swift passage of policies that will balance the scales for tenants rights and bring Minnesota in line with the rest of the nation. Organized by the Equity in Place (EIP) coalition, speakers emphasized the importance of advancing EIP’s 2024 State Policy Priorities before the March 22 committee deadline.

“In 2023, state lawmakers passed critical protections for tenants — but more needs to be done,” said Juan Luis Rivera-Reyes, coalition organizer at The Alliance, which convenes the Equity in Place coalition. “That’s why we’re here today: to call on legislators to prioritize policies that give renters the fundamental right to choose where they live, stay where they are, and come together as neighbors to make sure their housing is safe, dignified and reliable.”

Tenant Right to Organize [HF 2704 / SF 3201] would provide guarantees to tenants, non-resident organizers, and advocates to defend renters’ rights to dignified, well-maintained housing without facing retaliation and displacement. “Many of my neighbors and friends are immigrants from the East African community, who moved to Minnesota to escape civil war,” said Jean Flores, a Native American grandmother and renter in an affordable housing community in Spring Lake. “As a tenant leader, I know this community is especially afraid of retaliation, as they see what happens to their neighbors who are actively organizing and they are afraid of losing their new life in Minnesota. Having an affirmative tenant right to organize would support the multi-cultural organizing and relationships that make our lives better and our communities stronger.”

Just Cause eviction protections [HF 4440] would ensure landlords can only evict renters and non-renew leases for specific reasons, preventing tenants from arbitrary, retaliatory, or discriminatory evictions and non-renewals. “I am honored to be here as a tenant and community advocate to highlight the importance of balancing the scales when it comes to the landlord and tenant relationship,” said Marian Butler, a tenant leader with African Career, Education and Resource Inc (pictured below). “It’s critically important that there be a legal process that landlords must follow in filing evictions. The process needed to be fair, just and equitable to both landlords and tenants.”

The Housing Stability Act [HF 3640 / SF 3780] would bar landlords from discriminating against tenants who utilize rental assistance vouchers, like Section 8. I know a woman who is a mother and was homeless who finally got Section 8 but, with the limit on how much time to find a space, she never found a space because everywhere she went they said we don’t accept Section 8 — and found herself homeless again,” said Laquita Love-Limo, a member of the Stable Housing is a Priority (SHIP) Collaborative. “We need source of income protections because people need a safe, secure, affordable place to live—regardless of how it’s legally paid for.

Minnesota Landlord-Tenant Law Modernization [HF 3591 / SF 3492] would clarify, modernize, and make more equitable Minnesota’s landlord-tenant law to reduce the power imbalance between tenants and landlords. “Landlords effectively write their own rules and regulations with every lease, and tenants have very little real power to negotiate over any of those terms,” said Michael Dahl, Public Policy Director at HOME Line. “The most effective way to find any kind of fair balance between the parties and protect tenants is through state statutes and city ordinances.”

The Good Neighbor Bill [SF 4615] would provide a grace period for a host who is in lease violation due to hosting a youth who would otherwise face homelessness to negotiate a solution without the property owner immediately starting the eviction process. “At 16, I found myself without a place to sleep,” said Charlie Barba-Cook, the Deputy Director of CloseKnit. “I couldn’t go home so I turned to my best friends for help. But even they couldn’t shield me from the harsh realities of rental agreements. Those leases promised to evict families willing to take me in off the street. After almost 2 weeks into staying with a friend, his mother was forced to ask me to leave. I could sense her sadness, her struggle between compassion and resource. But I had to go.” 

The Expanding Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) Bill [HF 3843 / SF 3769] would give families the basic right to apply for rental housing. “COPAL is a member-organization of predominantly renters, and many of our members are also limited in their options to rent due to their immigration status,” said Ryan Perez, Organizing Director at COPAL Minnesota. “Many rental applications require a Social Security Number, despite the fact that the ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, can be and is utilized for similar purposes by undocumented taxpayers.”

Renters and advocates were joined by legislative leaders who are championing these important bills this session. 

“A stable and predictable housing environment fosters trust and cooperation between residents and landlords,” said Rep. Esther Agabje, Vice Chair of the Minnesota House Housing Committee (pictured below). “Clear guidelines for tenancy termination, based on demonstrably just cause, provide security for tenants while ensuring responsible management of properties. This balanced approach strengthens communities and promotes long-term prosperity.”

“A strong community is built on the foundation of empowered individuals,” said Rep. María Isa Pérez-Vega. “Just as a healthy democracy thrives on collective participation, a thriving tenant population has the right to organize and advocate for their well-being. This right to organize is not a privilege, but a cornerstone of a just and equitable living environment.”

Watch a full video of the press conference here.