Jan. 6—ROCHESTER — The number of evictions filed in Olmsted County dropped by approximately 100 last year, pointing toward a possible waning of
the post-pandemic increase.
“Before we declare there is a drop in evictions and it’s going to be here to stay, I think we have to look through June or July, giving it six months to see if the decline continues,” said Karen Fairbairn Nath, executive director of Legal Assistance of Olmsted County. “I would be so happy if it did and that was truly the case.”
With approximately 700 evictions filed in 2023, it’s still well above the average of 465 seen in the three years before the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a statewide eviction moratorium.
In 2020 and 2021, less than 150 evictions were filed during the period that barred landlords from seeking to end rental agreements due to lack of payment.
When federal rental help was offered and the pandemic pressures waned, Olmsted County evictions rose to a seven-year high of 812 in 2022.
Kayleen Asmus, a Legal Assistance of Olmsted County attorney, said the shift to fewer filings last year has been noticed and the backlog of eviction cases seen at the end of 2022 no longer exists.
She said some of the shift might be due to changing mindsets among both tenants and landlords.
During the moratorium, she said some tenants became aware that they couldn’t be evicted for not paying rent. When the moratorium ended, the belief remained with some people, which led to an increase in eviction filings.
“The mentality of moratorium has faded a bit,” she said.
On the other side of the coin, she said some landlords who felt financial pains during the pandemic reacted quickly when the moratorium lifted to cover costs related to their mortgages and evict tenants who continued to not pay.
“I think some of that motivation has eased as well, now that they have had a chance to file those cases,” Asmus said. “There might be a bit of backlog (among landlords) but at some point that is going to fade out, I’d guess.”
She said numbers are still unlikely to return to what was seen before the pandemic, since the number of cases in Olmsted County was already increasing, going from 378 fillings in 2017 to 527 in 2019.
While not returning to such lows, Brian Lipford, senior leadership attorney for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, said he’s cautiously optimistic that eviction rates will continue to drop in 2024.
Starting this year, landlords must give tenants 14-day notices before filing for eviction, which Lipford said could give some of his clients time to seek emergency rental support. Along with the new notification requirement, the Minnesota Legislature made the landlord notice a potential qualifying document for county assistance programs.
“My hope is that the combined impact of these two changes results in more tenants being able to secure the funds necessary to pay their rent before an eviction is filed thereby reducing the numbers of filings,” he said.
By being able to access funds earlier in the process, Lipford said tenants will avoid needing to reimburse landlords for the filing fees associated with an eviction once it is filed, since emergency assistance cannot be used to pay court costs.
Fairbairn Nath said local efforts are also playing a part, with cooperation between the legal assistance organizations and Olmsted County’s housing stability team.
While the nonprofit’s attorneys cannot reach out to people before they are in court, Fairbairn Nath said her organization has started providing a list to the county team, which can determine whether help can be offered before the court date.
“They can do quite a bit of work prior to that first appearance, in terms of trying to get emergency assistance or working behind the scenes,” Fairbairn Nath said, adding that more awareness of support and potential impacts of evictions is needed.
As for looking to future needs, Asmus said a wait-and-see stance is needed.
“It might plateau at what we have,” she said. “It might not.”
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