ST. PAUL — A bill introduced in the Minnesota Legislature on Monday, March 16, seeks to cushion some economic blows that the coronavirus pandemic could deal to the state by putting a moratorium on evictions.

Under the bill, rental property owners would not be able to file for eviction for 30 days in places where public health emergencies have been declared. Late fees on unpaid rent, meanwhile, could not be charged for 60 days.

Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, introduced the state House bill in response to a pandemic that threatens to upend businesses and, in the process, eliminate jobs. Utility companies that do business in the state have similarly pledged to not shut off service to late bill payers for the time being.

In a statement, Howard's office said that he worked with Gov. Tim Walz's administration on the proposal.

"Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans may face housing instability by the end of this month," a statement from Howard reads. "It is vital that we respond proactively to this looming housing crisis to ensure all Minnesotans can stay in their homes, stay safe, and in turn, help keep all of us safe."

Howard introduced the bill on Monday shortly after legislative leaders announced that they were examining remote work options and other measures that would scale back Capitol operations in light of the pandemic. Earlier this morning, the state Department of Health confirmed that 54 people in Minnesota tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus.

Reached by phone late Monday, Howard said he planned to meet with the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association to discuss the legislation on Tuesday, March 17. The group, which represents rental property management companies and landlords throughout the state, declined to comment.

The bill does not forbid landlords from collecting rent during public health crises, nor does it call for rental rate cuts. It does not say if eviction cases filed shortly before an emergency declaration would be put on hold, though Howard said Tuesday that could change.

The bill does, however, call for the creation of a temporary housing assistance program.

Residents who cannot make rent, mortgage or utility payments as a result of the coronavirus pandemic would be eligible to apply to the program, which would be managed by the state Housing Finance Agency. Low-income Minnesotans would also be eligible.

Candidates for the program would have 60 days to apply and, if approved, receive no more in assistance than they owe to their landlord, lender, utility provider or homeowner's association.

The agency's commissioner would be granted authority to contract with local, county and tribal governments — as well as nonprofit organizations — to secure funding. Howard is also seeking an as-of-yet unspecified amount of money from the state general fund for the program.

According to spokesperson Andrew Wagner, state House minority leadership could not immediately comment on the legislation. State Senate leaders could not immediately be reached for comment.

Other bills introduced last year and under consideration this legislative session would similarly restrict landlord eviction powers. One would make it easier for Minnesotans to expunge evictions from their civil court records and the other would require rental property managers to formally notify their tenants when they plan to file for eviction.

Neither one is poised for a full vote in either chamber of the Legislature. At the local level, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter asked the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office on Monday to suspend eviction proceedings in the city as part of a municipal emergency declaration.

Approximately 18,000 eviction cases were filed in Minnesota in 2019, according to the state Court Information System. About 6,700 resulted in eviction.

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