City tightens heating ordinance

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The new laws place stricter controls on how property owners respond to tenants’ problems with heating

The City of Minneapolis is changing the way it regulates and enforces heating in rental properties.

Last week, city property inspectors were ordered to begin fining landlords who don’t fix broken heating systems within 24 hours, down from the previous mandate of 72 hours.

And sometime in January, the Minneapolis City Council will likely decide whether to change the city’s ordinance regulating when property owners are required to turn on the heat in their buildings.

Landlords are currently required to turn on heating systems after temperatures have been below 60 degrees for 24 hours.

If the ordinance is changed, furnaces would have to be providing heat based on the time of year, from Sept. 21 to May 1, for example.

Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon, whose district includes the University area, said these changes will benefit renters.

He said the current ordinance that requires heat to be turned on based on the outside temperature is confusing. Setting dates would be easier for both renters and landlords to understand.

Mike Vraa, a tenant law attorney, said Minnesota law requires rental housing to be fit for its intended use. If a house has no heat in the winter, it’s not fit for its intended use.

The changes to the ordinance would make it easier for renters to go to their landlords and show them exactly when it’s necessary to have the heat on.

“The nice thing about the calendar date is it’s such an easily understandable thing,” Vraa said. “A broader period like that is better for renters.”

JoAnn Velde, the deputy director of housing inspection services in Minneapolis, said there is a difference between having no heat and having low heat.

If a home has no heat, inspectors will respond within 24 hours. If there is some heat, they will respond, but not the same day.

Landlords are required to provide supplemental heating and are fined $200 if they have not addressed the lack-of-heat problem within 24 hours. Velde said incidents like these happen at about the same rate in different areas around the city.

Sara Hagestad, tenant organizer at Family & Children Services, a nonprofit, said the city is making these changes because of complaints from tenants.

Landlords sometimes take advantage of tenants and don’t respond to concerns, she said.

“There’s a huge divide between treatment and responsiveness and living conditions between English and non-English speaking tenants,” Hagestad said.

Jason Klohs, a landlord who owns property in the University area, said he thinks these ordinance changes are good, but he is concerned the city won’t take effort into account.

A landlord could try to address the problem but might not be able to fix it within 24 hours, he said.

Also, if landlords turn on heating systems on a set date, renters might turn up the heat when it isn’t needed and open their windows when temperatures get too warm, which Klohs said would waste energy and cost landlords if heating bills are included in rent.

“I wouldn’t expect my renters to live anyway I wouldn’t,” Klohs said. “To me, it’s actually sad that they have to make a ruling like this.”