Why I am no longer going to be a landlord in South Minneapolis

I have rented out bedrooms in my home to single women for more than seven years. My rents hover right around $500 per month, with one very large bedroom going for $525, and the tiny one with a balcony looking over the backyard for $475. This includes utilities except for heat in the winter, which is divided three ways, a shared bathroom and use of the kitchen and laundry. In all of the years of renting, I have only had three bad experiences, but the last bad experience broke the camel’s back, and it has made me make the decision to discontinue renting rooms.

It has been a good gig for an aspiring actor for a number of years, and it has allowed me the flexibility to attend auditions and be in shows. In the summertime I have supplemented my rental income with gardening for people, and in the winter, I have been a substitute teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

I rented out a bedroom to a young woman whose background check came out clean. For 2-1/2 years we got along well, and a contractor who visited the house actually thought she was my daughter. Then her life changed. She broke up with her longtime boyfriend and began, by her own admission, abusing alcohol and cocaine. Her behavior became disrespectful and erratic. Although we had a verbal agreement that “no one stays overnight but you,” she began pressuring me to have boyfriends stay overnight and brought home several men who I can only describe as bar pickups. With a shared bathroom upstairs, I felt this was unsafe in a house full of women, even before the coronavirus. I began to find myself short of breath and with my heart pounding. So I did what I’ve only had to do two times before:I discontinued her month-to-month lease with a 60-day notice. This was Feb.5, 2020, so she should have left by April 5. In the meantime, the pandemic hit and the governor established a moratorium on evictions. At the time, the language that I understood was that evictions could not take place for lack of payment of rent, but in the case of drug abuse, it sounded like an eviction proceeding could go forward, particularly since this is the house I own and live in myself. So, never having actually filed an eviction with Hennepin County Court before, when my renter had not left by May11,2020, and with a living situation that had become intolerable for my other two renters and me, I filed the eviction.

Hennepin County Court accepted my case, but byJuly7, having still not heard anything from the court, unable to even find out any information about when or if my case would be heard, knowing that eviction cases were proceeding extremely slowly due to the pandemic and the governor’s moratorium, and since my renter had finally moved out that day, I made what I felt was a reasonable request to the court to at least refund my filing fee if they were not going to hear my case in a timely fashion.

I finally received a reply on Aug.18. Here’s what happened: Judge Melissa J. Houghtaling ruled against me in my eviction case. She said that my case did not qualify as an exception to the moratorium rule. She actually charged me with a misdemeanor for filing the case, stating that I was responsible for knowing whether or not my case qualified as a valid eviction case. The record has been expunged, meaning that there will be no public knowledge that I have a misdemeanor on my record, but my renter will also not have any record of having an eviction filed against her.

I am dumbfounded.

I feel this is a bad judgment on so many levels. The process of filing the case was extremely confusing with all sorts of dense legal language. It’s all online and you have to figure out which box to check out of none that seem to pertain to your case. Normally, there is free legal advice at City Hall, but that was not happening due to the pandemic. I’m not sure how I could possibly have known that my case would be illegal to file in this particular judge’s opinion, given the unusual situation of the pandemic and the governor’s moratorium. I think criteria for an eviction being able to move forward actually changed sometime in June, from only evictions for lack of payment of rent, to all evictions. Anyway, the language around which evictions could happen got very murky, especially when the governor extended the moratorium. It also seems that, since the court gladly accepted my $305 filing fee, they considered that my case was legal.

Not only that, but I received instructions after my case was accepted that both my renter and I would receive a summons to the court notifying us of the date of our hearing. I was even instructed that I needed to find an unbiased third party to serve her with that summons. I never got the chance. No summons was eve rissued and no hearing was ever held. The judge simply ruled on the case.

I don’t know who is going to end up housing people who are addicted or who are bad renters for other reasons. Right now, the situation is that one landlord passes them to another either because there’s no record of them having addiction problems or selling drugs, or, like my renter, there will be no record of her having any eviction filings against her. Someone has a soft spot in their heart and they decide to give the renter a chance. The problems usually don’t appear until the person is already renting, and then it’s nearly impossible to get them out, even, as I have discovered, in my case when it’s not in a separate apartment building but in my own home. And it’s the landlord, not the tenant, that can be prosecuted for housing someone with drug problems.

It is literally by the grace of God that this woman left my house of her own accord, after pressure from me and my other two renters. No government agency helped me in this horrible situation, and if this woman still wanted to be living in my home she still could be, and there would be absolutely nothing I could legally do about it. That is why I have decided to stop taking in renters. There will now be three fewer rental spaces for low-income women in South Minneapolis.

Yes, I am humiliated that the judge ruled against me in a case that involved my own home, but more than that, I certainly hope people will keep my situation in mind and that of other landlords as there comes a press to provide more “affordable housing.“ Not all landlords are big evil developers with huge coffers making even bigger profits on their spanking new condo buildings, milking their tenants of their hard earned money and violating all their tenants’ rights. Some landlords are small operators like I was, and up to now they have provided much of the truly affordable housing in this city.

So, now it should be up to our city and county governments to take on the risk of housing bad renters, especially if those governments are not going to offer any protections whatsoever to landlords. The only solution our governments have offered so far is to tell people to pitch tents in Powderhorn and the other parks. I guess they think that is a better solution than a bedroom with a bath, laundry and kitchen facilities in my historic house. Go figure.

Janet Skidmore

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