Minnesota Senate targets rent control in cities

Minnesota Senate passes bill that would retroactively override rent control measures approved by voters in St. Paul and Minneapolis

ST PAUL, Minn. — Senate Republicans are seeking to reverse rent control measures that voters in St. Paul and Minneapolis passed in November, fearing they would violate landlords’ property rights and discourage construction new affordable housing.

The provision would ban private property rent control throughout Minnesota, but would apply retroactively to Nov. 1, 2021, the day before voters in those cities go to the polls to pass changes to their municipal charters.

The ban was incorporated into the Agriculture-Broadband-Housing omnibus bill that the Senate passed this week, and it sparked an intense debate in the Senate over the fairness of overriding the will of local voters in the two largest state cities.

RELATED: Minnesota House approves legislation to make housing more affordable

“Their voice was heard in free and fair elections. We have no right to retroactively nullify the voice of the people! Look around at the inscriptions on the walls around here!” Senator Steve Cwodzinski, a Democrat from Eden Prairie, told his colleagues.

He was referring to the Latin phrase “Vox Populorum Est Vox Dei” affixed to the wall around the speaker’s podium, which translates to “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

“For us, overthrowing this election is the work of tyrants!”

St. Paul’s charter change, capping rent increases at 3% per year, will take effect on Sunday, May 1. City Council and Mayor Melvin Carter have been working to create a framework for how it will be enforced, and what detailed instructions for exemptions will be allowed under the charter’s wording.

In Minneapolis, by contrast, voters approved a charter amendment that empowers the city council to implement rent control. It still works throughout the process.

“Sometimes voters get it wrong. Sometimes voters shouldn’t vote on something,” Sen. Eric Pratt, a Republican from Prior Lake, argued during the indoor debate.

“To me, it’s a constitutional issue. It’s about the value of property rights.”

Senate bill also includes funds for avian flu response and research, rural broadband and affordable housing, forcing opponents of rent control ban to vote against other items of the legislation they support.

Minneapolis Democrat Scott Dibble said there were plenty of arguments that could be made for and against rent caps, but argued that the retroactive ban violated the spirit of Charter laws. Minnesota Home Rule, which gives the state’s 100 largest cities the power to adopt locals. orders even if not expressly granted in state law.

“Why do we even have a concept of a charter of autonomy to allow local democracy, debate on local policies, experimentation with local policies, etc.?” asked Senator Dibble.

Republican Faribault John Jasinki, who rents in St. Paul during legislative sessions, said his landlord rushed to raise the rent before the ordinance took effect.

“I’ve never seen more than about a three or four percent increase, and on December 30 of the year before, I got a note under my door for a 43.79 percent rent increase. “Senator Jasinski said.

“I don’t think that’s what St. Paul residents intended when they voted for rent control.”

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There is little appetite in the DFL-controlled House of Representatives to roll back rent controls, so it will be a point of contention if the bill makes it to a House-Senate conference committee later. in the session.

Some question whether the legislature has the power to override actions taken by voters in local towns. It seems the answer is yes.

“The Minnesota Constitution essentially says cities are ‘creatures of the state,’ and have no inherent authority other than that granted by the state legislature,” David Schultz of Hamline University told KARE. .

“With cities and counties, all of their power comes from the state legislature. That means the state gives and the state can take away as it wishes.”

He said self-governing cities have more power than smaller “statutory towns” in Minnesota law. Autonomous cities may adopt charters, but such charters must comply with the state constitution and may be preempted by state law.

The most recent example came in 2017 when the legislature overturned a Minneapolis city ordinance that would have banned disposable grocery bags, as part of an effort to stem plastic bag pollution.

At the time, Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate. Then-Governor. Mark Dayton signed the bill because it contained many other budget provisions necessary for the operation of state government.

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