ST. PAUL “The eviction moratorium is ending.”

That message Wednesday, June 30, on a large sign at a Capitol news conference marked the final word on Gov. Tim Walz’s 15-month ban on landlords removing tenants from their properties for failing to pay rent.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho hosted the news conference to answer questions about what comes next as the state’s emergency responses to the coronavirus pandemic wind down.

Walz signed a bill Tuesday, June 29, that creates an “off ramp” crafted by the Legislature that gradually phases out the eviction moratorium by Oct. 15.

Flanagan said the legislation “safely ends the eviction moratorium while providing time to access significant federal resources that are available for emergencies … This off ramp gives renters who have fallen behind time to get caught up and property owners time to be paid.”

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The state and its largest cities and counties are receiving $672 million in federal COVID-19 rental assistance. Ho stressed this message: “Renters, take action to apply for rental assistance.”

Eviction process explained

Here’s how the off ramp works: Housing providers could start sending eviction notices on Wednesday to renters who “materially violated” their leases by, for example, committing a serious crime or significant property damage — but not for nonpayment of rent. Those evictions would start taking effect July 14.

On Sept. 12, renters can be evicted if they have not paid their rent and they are not eligible for rental assistance. A month later all eviction restrictions are lifted except for eligible renters with pending rental assistance applications. All eviction protections end June 1, 2022.

Between now and Oct. 13, landlords must give tenants a 15-day notice before they file an eviction for nonpayment. The notice must tell renters the amount owed and direct them to sources of rental assistance.

The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency started accepting applications for assistance in April, and as of last week they had received 27,655 requests for aid totaling $146 million. The agency had paid $10.7 million or 7.3% of the amount requested.

Slow help frustrates

Asked about the slow payments, Ho said “there’s a lot of back and forth” in exchanging information among renters, landlords, her agency and the federal government. Those steps take a lot of time, she said, but they protect against fraud.

Senate Housing Committee Chairman Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said that rate of payment “isn’t good enough for me,” but he refrained from the harsh criticism leveled at Ho and the agency during legislative floor debates in the past week.

Ho said she understands landlords’ frustration with delayed rent payments but urged them to “take a deep breath” and work with their tenants to complete the required paperwork.

She expects the MHFA to receive up to 75,000 applications for assistance before next June.

Keeping folks in their homes

Ho didn’t have an estimate of the number of renters likely to be evicted as the moratorium phases out, but she said the rental assistance program can prevent a large number of evictions.

Despite an aggressive public information campaign, she said thousands of renters still may not know that help is available. More than half the applicants so far make less than $25,000 a year, and Flanagan said “a lot of families are in crisis right now.”

The Democratic lieutenant governor pronounced the moratorium a success. When state officials started telling Minnesotans to stay home last year to slow the spread of COVID-19, the ban on evictions “made sure they had homes to stay in,” she said, asserting that step saved more than 2,000 lives.

How to get help

To apply for help, go to RentHelpMN.org or call 211.