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Bill Cullen • 2 years ago

The actual court ruling is a fascinating read. St. Paul may be over confident.

Do cities really use code enforcement to maintain safe living? St. Paul used a "problem properties list" to go aggressively after select properties. How a property gets on and off this list is a key element of the case against St. Paul. Andy Dawkins, St. Paul's director of code inspections at the time, said BOTH code compliance issues and occupant behavior issues must be present to be on the list. I personally believe there isn't a house in St. Paul with some code issues (most commonly things like torn screens, peeling paint, trash not in proper bins, and other common/minor issues). So, if every property has code issues, isn't the problem property list, and the cities aggressive enforcement, really about "occupant behavior?" St. Paul would never define what occupant behavior would get a property on or off the list.

But why stop with code enforcement? Cities have all kinds of laws that create a disparate impact.

Almost every city I know, measures, punishes and puts landlords out of business if their tenants break the law. Well, if criminal records discriminate against African Americans, certainly arrests do too. So ask yourself... If you were a landlord (as I am), how could you assure your tenants don't break the law? The only way I know is to refuse to rent to anyone with a criminal history. Clearly not a 100% safe, but how else can a landlord assure tenants stay law-abiding (when most of us can't control our own dog!)? Certainly this common municipal ordinance is ripe for a lawsuit.

Columbia Heights doubles down on criminal records. They have a city ordinance mandating all landlords do criminal background checks on applicants for tenancy. Columbia Heights Chief of Police Nadeau is so aggressive about it that he publicly claims arresting landlords for violating this law. Never mind that the Feds, State and Courts have found the same actions illegal in employment law and has assessed massive fines against employers.

And what about occupancy standards? These limits only apply to or are only enforced upon, rental properties. Why is it ok for owner occupied households to "densely" occupy housing, but not renters? My experience is that over occupancy is most common amongst a few immigrant groups - a protected class.

With a bit of thought, I am confident I could find more concerns. I believe the only remaining question is who would sue the cities? Landlords, with the exception of these few, seem to appreciate these municipal laws because it gives them cover to restrict and limit housing. Legal aid attorneys appear afraid to bite the hand that feeds them. Maybe homeless advocates or the Feds will take the lead? Until then, we may want to thank these landlords for making us look deeper at the issue.

Steve Carlson • 2 years ago

The city is running an illegal code enforcement scheme and they think the ruling is good for them? Lots of luck with all that.