An important victory was finalized this week in federal court in Minnesota.
Many fair chance laws violate the U.S. Constitution and the constitutions of many states. We are pleased that the U.S. District Court for Minnesota saw that a St. Paul Fair Chance ordinance violated landlords’ constitutional rights and we are grateful that the city council voted to repeal its ordinance.
In June 2021, the St. Paul City Council voted 4-3 to repeal its Stable, Accessible, Fair and Equitable Housing Ordinance. This repeal followed a U.S. District Court ruling in April 2021 that called the constitutionality of the ordinance into question. A group of plaintiffs alleged that the ordinance is a taking and that the speech prohibited and compelled by the ordinance violates their constitutional rights. The plaintiffs also challenged the ordinance interferences with their contractual relationships and that it is void for vagueness. In a robustly worded memorandum and order, the District Court enjoined the enforcement of the ordinance.
As noted in a local media story,
In addition to requiring just cause for not renewing a lease, the ordinance limited a landlord’s ability to use a prospective tenant’s criminal record and credit history for screening purposes. If an apartment building that provides affordable housing was put up for sale, the landlord had to give tenants 90 days’ notice before the sale. The landlord also had to pay a tenant’s moving costs if the rent was increased within three months of a sale.
Passed with much fanfare (7-0) and rescinded with a whimper (4-3), the city chose to repeal rather than appeal. Supporting repeal were Council President Amy Brendmoen, Rebecca Noecker, Jane Prince, and Chris Tolbert. Voting against repeal were Mitra Jalali, Dai Thao, and Nelsie Yang.
Some council members expressed interest in trying again and passing a new fair chance ordinance, but that will come with another risk of litigation.