Legislature committee meets in the neighborhood

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Legislators heard from six Northside residents and/or workers, and residents saw a legislative committee in action when the Minnesota House Public Safety and Civil Justice committee chaired by Northside Representative Joe Mullery came to Folwell Park March 3 to discuss foreclosure-related legislation.

Committee members heard from two single mothers whose adjustable rate mortgages were going up – one to double the amount of the original payment at an interest rate escalating to nearly 12 percent. And they heard from a man whose unemployment benefits had just run out who is working with ACORN to help people in even worse situations than his own.

They heard from two people working with the pre-foreclosure counseling and prevention efforts of local organizations and implored the legislators to not forget the importance of additional resources for those efforts. And they heard from a licensed abstractor whose office’s foreclosure related workload had gone from five to eight cases a month, to 15 a week…and meanwhile, her wages being frozen and some of the company’s offices closing because of the overall housing slump.

The bills they considered for the most part clean up existing legislation and were said to represent agreement by normally adversary parties – landlord and tenant associations, chambers of commerce and government bodies. All passed out of the committee and most went to the House Commerce Committee, and one to the floor.

Here are some of the things that few people may think about, that were addressed in the bills:

• When a landlord stops paying utility bills, how renters can pay one bill and deduct from their rent, in order to buy time to deal with keeping the utilities on in the future.

• What constitutes notice of accelerating the redemption period to five weeks on an abandoned property in foreclosure.

• Additional requirements of notice and length of leases when a landlord in foreclosure rents property.

• When a financial institution evicts tenants upon taking over a property, allowing the record of that eviction to be expunged, to make it easier for these good tenants to relocate.

• Raising the cap on damages for claims of discrimination to $25,000 (from $8,500) for all parties that are not political subdivisions (in effect encouraging or allowing suits against discriminatory predatory lenders).

• Regulating lending practices and defaults relating to manufactured homes.

The atmosphere was convivial, and legislators presenting bills often started with a “DE1” amendment that deleted all the language of the original bill introduced with language that “put the bill in the shape that he/she wants it.” Non-legislators who helped develop the bills answered quite a few of the questions committee members had.

Media showed up for the event and cameras clicked constantly during the public testimony. (Except for ours, which had a dead battery.) But so it goes. Stay tuned through the legislative season. In opening the meeting, Mullery stated that a lot of the federal legislation relating to foreclosure issues and predatory lending originated in Minnesota. Let’s see what this year’s idea crop will entail.

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