Thousands Of Renters Could Be Victims Of 'Off The Books' Evictions

Notice of Eviction Opened in an Envelope with House Keys on a Wood Table - Sun shining through - Late Rent - Mortgage

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Potentially thousands of Minnesota renters could be victims of “off the books” evictions. FOX 9 recently investigated a legal loophole that allows landlords to evict tenants despite pandemic protections against those actions.

Investigative journalists spoke to Brianna Berger, who was given a notice to vacate her home in January 2022 after falling behind on rent in October 2021 due to having COVID-19 and being unable to work.

A notice to vacate can be issued at the end of a lease or at any point during a monthly or verbal agreement. Some call this an “off the books” eviction because it doesn't require any justification.

“Minnesota law doesn’t require in normal times a landlord to have any reason,” Rachael Sterling, the COVID-19 eviction response coordinator at HOME Line, which helps tenants know their rights, said. “It could be that there were clouds in the sky today, and [they] just don't feel like being a landlord anymore, and here's your notice you have to be out in 30 or 60 days, and there's nothing that would restrict them from doing that.”

Berger had applied for emergency rental assistance through RentHelpMN, which is a program created to help Minnesota renters at risk of losing their housing during the pandemic. She believed this would prevent an eviction based solely on non-payment.

“Her case is really indicative of an ongoing issue that’s been around since before the pandemic, but it’s just been exacerbated by it,” Sterling said.

"There’s not a lot of stuff that tenants can necessarily do to protect themselves in that case because there’s nothing illegal about it. Unethical, maybe… immoral, possibly, but nothing illegal," Sterling added.

There have been some efforts to strengthen renters' rights in Minnesota, including legislation that would require “just cause” for eviction. In fact, Sen. Lindsey Port has co-sponsored bill SF 4317, but it has effectively stalled in the Legislature.

“We're expecting it's thousands of families in Minnesota who could be protected by policies such as this — that really look not just at the landlords rights, but also at the renters rights, which is frankly just not something that we've addressed at the legislature in any real way,” Port said.

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