First, Christopher Niedzielski landed in the hospital due to health issues related to kidney failure. After an extended stay, Niedzielski was ready to go home – but discovered within days that he had nowhere to go.
Niedzielski, 44, and his wife were kicked out of their Brooklyn Park apartment last Monday. He said they owed about $5,000 in back rent.
“It was bad, but I thought I had health issues, they would work with me,” said Niedzielski, manager of Burger King.
He said the couple had to leave half of their possessions behind because they were too heavy for his wife to move, and he couldn’t help because of medical concerns. They are staying with his friends, but he is worried about finding new accommodation with an eviction on his record.
Niedzielski is not alone. Court system data shows that eviction filings in Minnesota rose in June and July as the moratorium on evictions expired and the state allowed nonpayment of rent to resume. In 2022, 18,855 eviction cases were filed in Minnesota courts, the first step in the process, compared to 15,457 in 2019.
But to the surprise of many, eviction filings remained above pre-pandemic levels throughout the last six months of 2022, jumping again in December and showing no signs of stopping in January — a time of year when filings typically drop.
The data shows that filings haven’t been this high since 2013, at the end of the recession.
State and county officials said landlords may have held off filing for eviction over the holidays, but inflation combined with the end of COVID-19-related assistance has left many renters unable to afford their housing.
“Between the start of the pandemic and now, the number or share of rent-burdened households has gone up,” said John Patterson, director of planning, research and evaluation at Minnesota Housing.
With inflation soaring, landlords have raised rents, Minnesota housing officials said, though some in the industry dispute that. And there is still a shortage of affordable housing, especially multi-family, in the metro area and Minnesota.
concerned tenant groups
Rachel Sterling, an attorney at HOMELine, a tenants’ rights organization, collects court data on evictions every day as part of the Eviction Prevention Project and has done so since 2019.
“We thought we were in crisis – and we were in crisis – at that point [in 2019]”We’re even worse off now,” she said.
She believes eviction filings continue in droves, in part because more major corporations—as opposed to mom-and-pop-type landlords—own rental properties in Minnesota.
“Larger companies are less likely to delay filing an eviction lawsuit than smaller local management companies or smaller landlords,” she said.
Other factors at work?
A possible contributing factor to the continued increase in eviction filings is that courts — which previously dealt with a backlog of cases — now have more open spaces on their calendars. Janet Boerner, director of Hennepin County Adult Acting Services, said she saw more locations available starting in October.
Boerner said: “When the courts increase their dates for hearing cases … more cases are filed because people know that they can hear their cases.”
In Hennepin County, housing stabilization director David Hewitt said he believes another reason for the spike in eviction requests is due to counties using federal pandemic money to help with emergency rent.
“We’ve had emergency rental assistance available in our community on a scale that we’ve never seen before, and those programs are winding down through 2022,” he said.
He said Hennepin County, of which $58 million has been designated as federal emergency aid, provided money through November, though officials also diverted about $1 million from the county budget to continue helping people through the end of 2022.
Hennepin County was hit hard
Not only is Hennepin County the most populous county in the state, it also has the highest number of eviction files. In 2022, Star Tribune data shows about 5,400 eviction filings in Hennepin — about 35% of all filings that year — compared to 4,500 in 2019.
There simply aren’t enough housing units in the county to provide affordable housing for a group of low-income families – those earning less than $31,000 a year for a family of three or $21,000 for an individual.
He said there are only 14,000 housing units considered affordable – costing 30% or less of a family’s or individual’s income – for the 74,000 families who need them. The remaining 60,000 end up living in places they can’t afford.
“What this means is that even small shifts in their circumstances can push them further into crisis,” Hewitt said.
It’s also a tough time for landlords, said Cecil Smith, president and CEO of the Minnesota Multiplex Housing Association.
Smith said that if eviction filings in the past six months were spread across the months of the pandemic and beyond — from March 2020 through December 2022 — the recent spikes would be “mitigated” and annual totals would be lower than the 2018 and 2019 levels.
“Looking at the averages, we’re still in that downward trend,” he said.
He said some landlords have stopped placing applications and have tried hard to set up payment plans with tenants in recent months because the courts have been subsidizing.
“Because what’s the point of the filing? I won’t get a court date for four months,” he said.
Meanwhile, association members still have to pay mortgages, utilities, insurance and taxes, he said, adding that many of those costs are on the rise.
Contrary to what others have said, rents don’t increase in the metro area, Smith said. In fact, the Twins saw average rent fall 8.5% in December, more than any other major market, a Redfin survey He said. In some neighborhoods, like Uptown, he said, landlords have lowered rents just to fill units.
Angie French, vice president of Mid Continent Management Corp. She and her peers saw that the eviction process would continue beyond June and July because, in many cases, tenants were waiting to see if they were eligible for rent assistance. Sometimes there is a need to rewrite paperwork.
She said late-paying tenants continue to cause problems for some landlords.
“Some of our properties had more than 10% of the residents severely in arrears in rent,” she said. “We’re not going to file for many evacuations…with the idea that it’s likely that all of these cases will have to be evacuated because that’s not a smart business move.”
There is no easy process
She said evictions are costly for landlords and do not solve the financial problem. They only allow the owner to rent out a particular unit to someone else.
She said the tenant could owe $20,000 in back rent and the landlord might never get it back.
Both French and Smith said that evictions are not something anyone wants to happen.
“We’re in the housing business,” French said. “We’re doing this because we want to house people.”
Intern Eli Roth and staff researcher John Wareham contributed to this report.