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Proposed tenant protections inspired by U of M student struggles

Students at the University of Minnesota frequently receive leases between 25 and 30 pages long, with important information – like the dates of the lease – buried in the document.

This causes shock and panic when students are informed they have to vacate their apartment weeks earlier than expected, with little time to make other arrangements, William Dane, an attorney with the school’s Student Legal Service, told the House Housing Finance and Policy Division Wednesday.

HF495 would help address this problem and clarify other protections for tenants, sponsor Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls) said.

The bill was approved on an 11-4 roll-call vote and sent to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division.

A companion sponsored by Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Mpls), SF125, awaits action by the full Senate.

The bill would require the first page of a lease to include the dates a tenant is expected to move in and out of the unit and whether the rent is prorated.

Landlords need to inspect and clean apartments between tenants moving out in August and tenants moving in in September. Initially, leases left students without housing for three-day periods of time to accomplish this, but three-week-long gaps in housing have become common as landlords compete for the same service providers, Dane said.

Students are often still required to pay a full month of rent during that period, as well, he said.

“This is one that’s caused enormous problems for us,” Dane said.

The bill does not change anything financially, it simply ensures that people know what they’re agreeing to “so they’re not scrambling,” he said.

HF495 would also:

  • require leases to identify which specific unit is being rented to a tenant, if the building has 12 or more units, meaning that tenants are guaranteed an apartment when they pay for it; and
  • allow tenants to follow the notice periods laid out for landlords – if different than those for the tenant – when it comes to giving notice to quit or rent increases.

Paul Birnberg, a retired attorney who spent 25 years practicing landlord-tenant law and helped modernize and simplify state housing statutes, said the bill would also fix a drafting error in state statute. Currently, the law says leases will be terminated at the “latter” of the end of the month or the end of the rent interval, but the bill would correct it to “later.”

Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal) unsuccessfully offered a couple of amendments to the bill.

He said the bill would increase rents across the state by attempting to fix a localized problem using measures that would limit flexibility for all landlords and increase vacancy rates.

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