First, housing justice organizers collected over 9,000 signatures to get rent stabilization on the ballot. Then, over 30,000 St. Paul voters came together across race, class, and zip code and voted yes to Keep St. Paul Home for everyone this past November. Now, as we continue to advocate for the strongest rent stabilization possible, Housing Justice Center is answering some common questions from renters about the policy.
My landlord increased my rent by more than 3%. Isn’t that illegal?
St. Paul’s rent stabilization ordinance limits residential rent increases to 3% in any 12-month period even if there is a change of occupancy. The ordinance went into effect on May 1, 2022 following passage by St. Paul voters.
The ordinance includes a process for landlords to request an exception to the rent cap. Currently, landlords can self-certify (subject to audit by the Department of Safety and Inspections) rent increases between 3% and 8%, and must receive staff determination for rent increases between 8% and 15%. This means that we cannot know for sure whether your landlord has increased your rent legally or illegally until you report the increase.
The Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) takes into account several factors when determining whether or not to grant an exception, including failure on the part of the landlord to provide adequate housing services, or to comply substantially with applicable state rental housing laws, local housing, health and safety codes, or the rental agreement.
My landlord added additional fees that bring my total rent increase above 3%. Is this legal?
Per DSI, fees are considered rent if they are collected for use of the rental unit. This means that any benefit, privilege, or facility connected with the use or occupancy of your rental unit falls under the 3% cap. That includes but is not limited to maintenance, pet rent, month-to-month fees, trash removal, parking, utilities paid by the landlord, administrative fees, janitorial services, laundry, painting, light, hot and cold water, elevator service, window shades and screens, storage units, and telephone services.
I think my landlord has violated the policy and/or I want to report the increase so it’s on record with the city. What can I do?
Here are some steps you can take when you receive a rent hike above 3%:
- Filing a complaint is the first step in having City staff investigate potential violations to the rent stabilization ordinance.
- Sending HOME Line’s form letter to your landlord is sometimes the quickest way to get landlords to back down on illegal behavior. This action isn’t anonymous, but you can always ask the other tenants in your building to sign on as one collective body, i.e. “the Tenants of X Apartment”.
- Talk to your neighbors and get organized!
If you find out your landlord was granted an exception by DSI, there are still steps you can take to dispute this:
- File an appeal by mail, in-person, or via email within 21 business days from the time you receive notification about your landlord’s City-granted exception. Filing an appeal includes paying a $25 filing fee. Your appeal will be reviewed in a Legislative Hearing conducted by a Hearing Officer who will then make a recommendation to City Council.
Am I able to file a complaint about my landlord anonymously?
Yes. Complainant information related to housing is protected as confidential under state law. Any personal information collected is to assist DSI staff in resolving the complaint. Generally, DSI tries to reach out to tenants who have filed a complaint before reaching out to the landlord.
There is oftentimes no 100% risk-free way to take action against your landlord. Your landlord may incorrectly or correctly assume who filed the complaint, particularly if you live in a single-family home, rent in a small building, or have had negative encounters with your landlord in the past. It’s important to stay vigilant for possible retaliation; know your rights and seek legal assistance when necessary; and get to know your neighbors because acting collectively makes you stronger.
What if my rent is subsidized? Am I still covered by rent stabilization?
There are only two exceptions to the rent stabilization ordinance. The rent stabilization ordinance does not apply to…
- the tenant obligation if your rent is subsidized, and how much you pay is based on your income.
- the amount that your landlord is reimbursed by a government entity under the Housing Support Act, Minn. Stats chapter 256I.
How is rent stabilization enforced?
DSI will issue penalties for violation of the ordinance — failure to comply with the provisions of rent stabilization chapter may result in criminal prosecution. Tenants have the private right of action under the rent stabilization ordinance, which means that any tenant aggrieved by a landlord’s violation of rent stabilization may seek relief through the courts.
I heard the City is trying to make changes to rent stabilization. What can I do to keep it strong?
Rent stabilization is one of the many tools in the toolbox we have to Keep St. Paul Home for everyone — to make sure our neighbors can stay in their communities, children can keep close to their friends, and workers can remain close to work. It’s incredibly important that we work together in this moment to preserve the strength of this policy intervention.
Recently, the City-appointed Rent Stabilization Stakeholder Group managed to come together over their dedication to our city, deciding on a package that upholds much of what St. Paul already voted for, such as a 3% cap on annual rent increases and a process for the reasonable rate of return. It also contains a strong, much needed protection for renters in just cause, which is a necessary pairing with any rent stabilization policy to promote housing stability.
However, the package recommended by the work group also includes a few measures such as vacancy decontrol and a new construction exemption that could drastically undercut the efficacy of St. Paul’s rent stabilization policy. Thanks to recent news coverage, we know a few bad actors are already looking for loopholes to circumvent rent stabilization entirely. As a city, we can’t afford to create more weaknesses for them to exploit.
As changes to the policy are formally proposed in the coming months, be sure to make your voice heard. Write an op-ed, contact your electeds, and spread the word that rent stabilization works best when paired with additional renter protections, and without loopholes that can be exploited by predatory landlords.