Minnesota is distributing $ 672 in federal COVID relief funds to help tenants who could not pay their rent due to the pandemic. As the program rolled out slowly, RentHelpMN has now sent payments totaling $ 256 million (out of $ 372 million requested) from 59,000 applicants.
Yet there are still many eligible tenants who have yet to apply – and many questions from tenants and landlords about the program. To help clear up some of the confusion, we asked the national housing agency, tenant rights activists and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid answer the questions most frequently asked by landlords and tenants. (The state’s largest homeowner group was also invited to participate but did not respond until this article was published.)
Q: Is rental assistance still available?
A: Yes, unlike a state program in the second half of 2020, which had an end-of-year deadline, rental assistance funded by the COVID Relief Act of December 2020 and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) can be spent up to in 2022 The state expects available funds to be allocated by the middle of the second quarter of 2022.
Q: Is the program strapped for cash?
A: No. The funding that went directly to the state of Minnesota alone totals $ 300 million from the first federal law – the money spent now. Large counties and cities have received additional funds and have separate programs, such as the Zero balance project (in Dakota, Hennepin, and Ramsey counties as well as the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul) or a stand-alone program in Ramsey County. The state will then spend on an ARP distribution of $ 290 million, with an additional $ 85 million for major counties and cities.
Q: I read that the state may have to reimburse some of the money because it didn’t spend it fast enough. Is it true?
A: No. Although the US Treasury made this threat in September to all states as a way to jump-start aid programs nationwide, Minnesota has met Treasury requirements to get money from homeowners and will not lose. no funds.
Q: Who is eligible for assistance?
A: Under the federal law funding the programs, assistance is intended for tenants who have been economically affected by the pandemic, who experience certain income conditions and who are behind on rent and / or utilities. When in doubt, tenants should apply anyway if they are behind on rent.
Q: What help is available?
A: Qualified candidates can benefit from up to 18 months of rent: 12 months of rent arrears and 3 months of future rent. The aid goes back to unpaid rent after March 13, 2020. The state, however, recently decided to use $ 20 million in other ARP funds to add three months of aid to around 7,000 households that are expected to deplete. the 18 months allowed by federal law. . There is no cap on the amount of rent arrears that can be paid, only months rent.
Q: How do tenants or landlords who believe they are covered by the program apply?
A: Applications can be launched online at RentHelpMN. Calling the United Way on 211 is also a good way to get questions answered, even if the wait times have been long.
Q: Is there a deadline to apply?
Q: Is there still a deportation ban in Minnesota?
A: The eviction ban imposed by Governor Tim Walz was phased out by law from the state legislature earlier this year. However, any tenant who has submitted an application to RentHelpMN or one of the local government programs funded with federal COVID relief money is protected from eviction for non-payment of rent until June 2022 as long as they is in the middle of the process. Pending requests include those that have been submitted and that have not been refused, withdrawn or paid. If an applicant was refused or benefited from the program and does not pay rent in the future, they could be evicted.
Q: What about tenants who violate non-economic aspects of a lease, such as property damage, a violation of smoking rules, or illegal activity? Can they be evicted even if they are asking for rent assistance?
A: Yes. Still, lawyers advise seeking legal advice or seeking representation in a housing court.
Q: Can a landlord refuse to renew a lease?
A: Yes. It is not a court case. Non-renewals are allowed even if a tenant has an application for rental assistance pending. For those with questions about such a situation, advocates suggest seeking legal advice from organizations such as HOME line.
Q: What should a tenant do if they receive an eviction summons and complaint court documents while in the middle of a request for help?
A: Even if he is safe from eviction, the tenant must ensure to ATTEND THE HEARING before the Housing Court. Tenant advocates and legal aid lawyers say it is the biggest misconception about how the law is interpreted by housing courts. If the tenant does not show up to what are usually virtual hearings, the courts have rendered default judgments against them. This means that they can be removed from the residences by the sheriff. Even though tenants attend and show they are asking for help, some judges stay orders or continue hearings as eviction action is expected to be dismissed. RentHelpMN staff are available during eviction hearings to provide copies of evidence that the claims are pending.
Q: How does a tenant know if they have received an official eviction notice and not just another demand for payment?
A: Documents for a formal action must be served in person or by both by mailing the documents and posting them to the rental unit seven days before the hearing. They will contain a case number, date and time of hearing, as well as information on how to attend a hearing remotely or in person.
Q: What if a request was refused? Can a tenant be evicted?
A: Yes. But tenants who have been turned down because they are not eligible or because their requests have not been fulfilled can appeal. As long as the tenant’s appeals are pending, the eviction ban protects them. Appeal assistance is available from the Housing Justice Center at 1-800-403-0476.
Q: What if a tenant receives an eviction notice but has not yet filed a request. It’s too late?
A: No, but government program officials are calling for swift action. RentHelpMN has staff present or available in all housing courts who can give advice on how to start a claim at the hearing.
Q: What about tenants who are behind in rent but have moved? Can they get help with the rent?
A: Yes. Due to a change in federal government rules this summer, tenants and landlords can now seek help in the âvacated unitâ section of the website. But that requires starting a new application.
Q: Are unpaid utility bills covered?
A: Yes. Applicants will be asked to provide documents on these debts in the application process.
Q: What if a tenant only needs help paying their utility bills?
A: The Energy assistance program at the State Department of Commerce provides assistance to utilities for overdue costs as well as potential costs. Pending requests with EAP or RentHelpMN offer utility shutdown protections to households who have requested help. RentHelpMN, however, does not pay term expenses for utilities.
Q: Can tenants with an overdue utility rating have those services disconnected?
A: from minnesota Cold weather rule protects all consumers against cuts between October 1 and April 30 as long as the consumer makes a payment plan with the utility.
Q: How does a tenant or landlord get information or help?
A: The State works with United Way 211 to answer calls and answer questions. Those with pending requests can log into the state system and find updates on requests or submit questions or requests.
Q: Can a landlord apply for help for a tenant with unpaid rent?
A: A landlord can start a request but the tenant must be involved and approve a request.
Q: What if the tenant never responds or is uncooperative?
A: The state contacts a tenant about a landlord-initiated request three times in two weeks. If there is no response, the request is denied and eviction protections no longer apply to that tenant.
Q: What if an owner never responds or is uncooperative?
A: While most payments are sent directly to landlords, the program will make payments to tenants instead if a landlord refuses to accept payment or does not respond.
Q: What about homeowners who are behind on mortgages due to the pandemic and are either in foreclosure or at risk of foreclosure. Are they eligible for using RentHelpMN?
A: No. However, the state is setting up another program called HomeHelpMN with US bailout dollars. He hopes to roll out the program in the first half of 2022. Homeowners concerned about foreclosure are encouraged to speak with the person managing their mortgage about developing repayment plans. They can also receive free advice from the Minnesota Home Ownership Center.
Q: Are payments to homeowners taxable?
A: Payments to homeowners are taxable and tax forms will be sent by the state to homeowners who have received payments from the program. These payments are not taxable for the tenants who benefit from them.
Q: The owners have reported their frustration with using the program. Where can they go for help and ask questions?
A: The state created a web page with an email to answer specific questions from owners.