St. Paul City Council Passes Changes to Rent Ordinance

St. Paul City Council on Wednesday passed a set of amendments that revises the rent stabilization ordinance passed by voters last year.

After hearing from more than a dozen residents who all spoke out against the revisions, council members voted 5 to 2 to revise the policy, with council members Nelsie Yang and Mitra Jalali voting no.

The version on the November ballot capped annual rent increases at 3%, regardless of a change in occupancy – one of the toughest such regulations in the country. But earlier this year, the city established rules that allow landlords to request exceptions beyond the 3% limit.

Over the past few weeks, City Council has heard from tenants and housing advocates who have largely opposed changes to the ordinance. They say the broad exemptions for new construction — which apply retroactively to units built within the last 20 years — and affordable housing gut the original policy and hurt low-income renters.

An amendment passed before the final vote allows landlords to increase rent by up to 8% plus the Consumer Price Index in the event of a ‘justified vacancy’, defined as when a tenant chooses not to renew his lease or is fired for a certain set of infractions.

Other changes made by Jalali prioritized notifying tenants of potential rent changes beyond the 3% cap. One requires landlords to indicate during the request phase whether a unit is exempt from the cap, while another lets tenants know when their landlords have requested an exception.

Council member Chris Tolbert presented the initial package of amendments and praised Council’s work to reach a compromise.

“I think the ordinance and the improvements we’ve made to it will hopefully address the issues that brought rent stabilization to the Tenant Protection Ballot…and also minimize the negative consequences of the policy” , he said before the final vote.

Jalali and Yang criticized the process, saying it undermined the work of housing advocates.

“What I hear over and over again is people in our town telling us they’re struggling,” Yang said. “Their salaries are not increasing, but the cost of living is.”

Jalali said the 20-year retroactive exception for new construction would hurt tenants in her neighborhood, where she says much of the city’s newest housing was built.

“I will not vote to take rent stabilization away from my constituents who need it most,” she said.

She also pointed out that the 20-year period went beyond the 15 years proposed by a working group.

The Alliance, a coalition of community organizations, issued a statement lambasting the “sweeping and dramatic changes” to the rents ordinance, saying Wednesday’s council vote “overturns the will of the voters”.

“Despite the council’s stated desire to expand affordable housing, Order 22-37 will further deepen our current housing crisis by removing protections for over 20,000 people living in affordable housing and not only exempting new construction in the future, but buildings that have been constructed within the last 20 years,” the statement read in part. “These changes will disproportionately harm the tenants that this policy was most intended and carefully designed to protect: tenants at low-income, disabled and Black, Indigenous and of Color (BIPOC) – those most in need of renter protections.

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