Is the Nation’s Harshest Rent Control Law Unconstitutional, or Just Counterproductive?

“The preliminary results of St. Paul, Minnesota’s, strictest-in-the-nation rent control law have not been good. Developers have fled, while applications for new building permits and property values have both collapsed. Now, a pair of landlords are suing the city, claiming the law is unconstitutional.”

“The ordinance, written by local activists and passed by voters in November 2021, capped rent increases in the city at 3 percent per year, with none of the typical allowances or exemptions for inflation, vacant units, and new construction.

The policy is far stricter than basically every other rent control law in the country. Oregon’s 2019 state rent control law, for instance, allows for property owners to raise rents by 7 percent plus inflation and exempts buildings less than 15 years old from these price caps.

While the St. Paul ordinance did allow landlords to obtain exemptions to that 3 percent cap if it threatens their ability to earn a “reasonable return” on their investment, what would count as a reasonable return and how to secure an exemption were left up to the city to hash out. St. Paul came out with proposed rules for implementing the ordinance, including the exemption process, in early April 2022. These were finalized later that month, and everything went into effect on May 1. The final rules allow landlords to “self-certify” exemptions if they’re trying to raise the rent by no more than 8 percent, which involves filling out a short form and submitting it to the city.

Landlords are also permitted to raise the rent up to 15 percent. Doing so requires vetting from city staff and the completion of a 22-page worksheet that asks the applicant to provide exhaustive detail about changes in their expenses that might justify a rent increase. Because all exemptions can be appealed and subjected to a city audit, even landlords who can self-certify increases of up to 8 percent are encouraged (but not required) to fill out that 22-page worksheet as well.

It’s a daunting prospect for many of St. Paul’s smaller landlords.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *