St. Paul City Council approves amendments to proposal to alter rent control law

Less than a year after voters approved rent control measures in St. Paul, the St. Paul City Council is weighing a package of changes to the landmark law.

On September 8, the council approved several amendments to a package of changes. The approved amendment includes a 20-year exemption for new construction (or reclassification from non-residential to residential). It also approved a "partial vacancy decontrol" policy, which allows landlords to "bank" up to 3% rent increases over a period of time, and then reset rent after a vacancy.

A full vote on the law is expected next week.

(UPDATE: On September 14, the council continued its vote on rent control measures.)

Rent control rollback

Previously stakeholders created a 41-member Rent Stabilization Task Force to examine the potential policy changes, and the city's rent stabilization practices. The group met 15 times throughout the year.

"I, to this day, do not understand why we worked this hard to pass this ordinance, we got almost 10,000 signatures on the ballot and we won by a lot - why were we tasked to do this," said Katherine Banbury, a task force member and lifelong renter at a meeting.

Approved recommendations by the group included a 15-year exemption, but opinions on a "banking" or a "vacancy decontrol" policy remained mixed.

Low-income renters have also expressed concerns about rents rising already in the wake of the ordinance's passing.

In a statement Thursday, the SEIU MN State Council condemned the changes, and called on people to veto Carter if they ultimately passed.

"Our Union, which brings together thousands of low- and middle-income workers in St. Paul in healthcare, home care, property services, and schools, most of whom are renters, has been proud to support rent stabilization… But the drastic change Council Members Prince, Brendmoen, Tolbert and Ballanger voted to approve takes the best part of what has come from all that hard work and guts it altogether from the ordinance," said Phillip Cryan, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, and co-chair of the Rent Stabilization Task Force, in a statement. "This huge policy change… is appalling, not just because it would be so harmful to renters if it goes into effect, but also because 41 people came together across our many differences and disagreements and worked very hard for several months to make broad-consensus policy recommendations in Mayor Carter’s working group. That group vigorously debated and explicitly rejected the kind of full vacancy decontrol… renters will suffer if this becomes law."