St. Paul Tenant Successful in Using Rent Stabilization Ordinance to Reduce Wrongful Rent Hike from Affordable Housing Corporation

Pictured above from left: Jack Cann, Senior Attorney at Housing Justice Center; Katherine Banbury, renter at the Cambric and tenant organizer at HOME Line; and Marcus Troy, member of the rent stabilization stakeholder group and West Side renter

Leveraging the new power afforded to tenants by the rent stabilization ordinance passed by voters last year, Katherine Banbury of the Cambric Apartments, represented by attorneys with the Housing Justice Center, has successfully appealed an unwarranted rent hike. Today, tenants and advocates testified in support of the Department of Safety and Inspections finding that Dominium — a Minnesota-based for-profit affordable housing corporation — wrongfully imposed a nearly 8% rent hike and reduced the allowable increase to just over 6%.

In November 2021, nearly 31,000 St. Paul residents voted yes for rent stabilization to stop price gouging and give tenants more tools to push back against exploitation from predatory landlords. Carefully crafted by renters and legal experts, the policy includes a process for property owners to increase rent above the 3% annual cap to ensure a reasonable return on investment — and an opportunity for renters to appeal such increases. Katherine Banbury, a resident at Cambric Apartments in Dayton’s Bluff, was among the first renters to appeal a rent hike — and win.

“As a renter who has struggled to keep up with skyrocketing rents myself and a neighbor who has watched too many elders get pushed out of our supposedly affordable housing, I was energized and empowered by the overwhelming passage of rent stabilization in the 2021 election,” said Katherine Banbury, Dominium renter and HOME Line tenant organizer. “While I had experienced egregious rent spikes from Dominium in the past, I was particularly outraged at the blanket increase of nearly 8% they imposed in June which was so transparently the maximum increase allowed by our new ordinance, not a necessary adjustment based on reasonable return on investment. Having utilized the DSI appeal process, I’m heartened that renters like me now have legal recourse but all the more determined to make that process stronger and more accessible for all tenants.”

“I felt violated and caught off guard when Dominium told me they are going to increase my rent by nearly $100 per month — but I had no idea about the appeal process,” said Cynthia Stampley, who has lived at Cambric Apartments for four years. “Now, we’ve come together to organize against their predatory practices and our neighbors’ appeals prove that  we have the power to use this policy to protect us against these devastating rent hikes. But too many renters, like me, have not been informed about their rights and miss the short window to file an appeal. If Dominium violated the ordinance in raising Katherine’s rent, they used that same logic to raise mine, as well. It’s only fair that DSI’s finding applies to all of us, not just the individuals who had the access, ability and knowledge to file an appeal.”

“After Dominium imposed an 8% increase, the Hearing officer found that they were only entitled to a 6% increase, therefore finding that Dominium violated the ordinance,” said Ivory Taylor, Associate Director at Housing Justice Center. “Because there was nothing unique about the City’s finding with respect to Katherine, the same applies to every Cambric tenant. Beyond that, it appears that Dominium imposed virtually identical 8% increases on all of their St. Paul buildings. The Cambric example shows that was in error and the city must demand documentation for and proactively investigate all other St. Paul Dominium buildings to ensure hundreds of other tenants aren’t suffering wrongful rent hikes, as well.”

“This early and successful appeal from the Cambric underscores the importance of not only a strong policy but robust education and enforcement from the city,” said Juan Luis Rivera-Reyes, a coalition organizer for the Alliance. “Thanks to Councilmember Mitra Jalali, Ordinance 22-37 requires that tenants are notified when DSI receives a rent stabilization exemption request from their landlord, and expands the window in which tenants can appeal rent increases to 45 days. But we know that thousands of renters in Dominium’s properties and so many others need action from the City Council to strengthen the rent stabilization policy and provide additional protections for tenants, who make up the majority of our community here in St. Paul.”

“The collective experience of Dominium tenants in St. Paul illustrates the importance of a powerful rent stabilization policy that is proactively enforced,” said Meg Daly, Advocacy Manager at the Minnesota Youth Collective. “Though St. Paul remains home to one of the strongest rent stabilization policies in the country, without a serious intervention to the recently passed Ordinance 22-37, the most vulnerable renters in our city will lose protections entirely come January. But that future is not carved in stone. We must work together to ensure affordable housing tenants, who are disproportionately low-income, seniors, BIPOC and disabled, have the same rent stabilization rights as everyone else. We can invest in rent stabilization enforcement through creating much-needed tools like a rental registry, and call on DSI to enforce the findings in Katherine Banbury’s appeal to protect every one of her neighbors.”