ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on Monday, April 12, on a 46-21 vote approved a plan to transition the state out of its eviction moratorium in an effort to allow landlords to have more flexibility to remove problem tenants.

Gov. Tim Walz last year placed the moratorium on evictions as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the state in an effort to protect those who lost their jobs or were furloughed and could no longer afford to pay rent. In the months that followed, some landlords reported they'd been unable to evict renters who caused safety concerns or skipped months of payments though they'd not experienced financial hardship.

A bipartisan group of senators crafted a proposal that would end the moratorium but phase in allowable evictions a little at a time. Thirty days after the plan took effect, landlords could evict those who caused serious safety concerns or other lease violations besides failing to pay rent. After 60 days, those who failed to pay rent and weren't eligible for state assistance programs would be up for potential eviction.

Senators said the approach would allow landlords to quickly deal with the most troublesome tenants without bogging down the courts with a deluge of new eviction cases. And they encouraged those struggling to make their payments to seek state assistance. Lawmakers also noted that federal protections would prevent those who make less than $99,000 a year from being evicted.

"Our bill here tries to have a step-down approach to an off-ramp," Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said. "We need this off-ramp to encourage people to apply for the help that is sitting here. I would hope that we will see that website up and running this week so we can get the help to the tenants."

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The governor wouldn't be able to issue an order extending the moratorium or starting a new one without the approval of the Legislature, under the proposal. Republican lawmakers have pushed back on Walz's executive orders and his authority to issue them but have been unable to roll them back or end the state's peacetime emergency since they've met opposition in the DFL-led House of Representatives.

Some Democratic senators gave the thumbs up to the proposal, however, and noted that it was important to have a plan in place to prevent a backlog of evictions once the executive order lapses. Meanwhile, others raised concerns about putting renters up for eviction amid an ongoing pandemic.

"It's unconscionable that this is where the head of the state of Minnesota is right now. People are looking for help and we're talking about how to expedite and move forward on how people would be evicted from their homes," Sen. Jen McEwen, D-Duluth, said, noting that federal aid to keep tenants in their homes could take months to reach the state.

The plan would have to be approved by the House of Representatives before it could come up for vetting in conference committee and move to the governor's desk for his signature.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com