A bill passed in the House last week aims to protect renters, like University of Minnesota students, who are often more vulnerable to bad leasing practices.
Due to common poor housing management and complaints about housing surrounding campus, the Minnesota Student Association drafted and has advocated for the bill since last year. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but did not make it to a vote on the House floor because it was introduced too late in the session.
The legislation is likely to pass this year, as it is likely to pass in the Senate again, officials say.
A main issues student renters experience is not knowing the lease's length, according to MSA representatives. The bill would require the lease term to be stated on the first page of all leases.
“Students are kind of an easy target. … We’re often renting for the first time [and] signing leases for the first time, [so] we don’t know what to expect,” said Jude Goossens, MSA’s director of government and legislative affairs. “We don’t have the resources to be able to negotiate with landlords or pursue legal action if there’s some sort of legal infraction or complaint.”
University alumna Archanaa Suntharalingam said she was displaced for several weeks during her senior year because a lease ended earlier than she assumed it would — which she was not aware of when signing.
Being an international student, Suntharalingam didn’t have family in Minnesota to stay with when she was displaced. She said she was lucky she had friends to stay with, but she would like to see more transparency from management in the future.
“As students, we’re not taught to go through this 30-page legal document when we’re signing [for] an apartment, so we put a lot of trust in the landlord to ensure that we’re given … common courtesy,” Suntharalingam said.
Suntharalingam said many international students are particularly vulnerable to unjust lease practices.
“We don’t have familiarity with the system ... we don’t have the stability and the security. If there’s an issue, we’re not sure how to resolve it, because we don’t want it to affect our status as [international students],” Suntharalingam said.
From heating problems to rodents, MSA At-Large Representative Taylor Larick said he is currently dealing with management issues for his off-campus house.
When Larick and his housemates informed management they would not be renewing their lease for the next year, they were charged for the past five months of utilities — a cost they were previously told was included in the rent.
Larick reached out to the University’s Student Legal Services, who helped him send a letter to management highlighting their bad leasing practices.
“Looking back, I think what I should’ve done would’ve been just to set up a time with Student Legal Services just to review our lease, because ... we learned that there were a lot of sketchy things within our lease that left [management] with a lot of loopholes,” Larick said.
There was opposition to the bill in the House from several representatives, including Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, who argued the bill would raise costs for renters and landlords.
Goossens said this opinion was misinformed, and noted that many who opposed the bill are landlords themselves.