Property owners in Minnesota are challenging a first-of-its-kind ordinance restricting rental properties in the city of Winona.
The city, which is home to Winona State University, passed the ordinance in 2006 capping the number of rental properties on any block at 30 percent of the block’s total homes, according to Watchdog Minnesota. The law was meant to curb “excessive on-street parking, anti-social behavior and deteriorating housing conditions.”
But some believe it’s going too far.
“To me it’s getting beyond what elected officials are supposed to do — starting to dictate who can rent, who can’t rent, who can do this, who can do that,” Ted Dzierzbicki, one of the three plaintiffs in a legal challenge against the law, told Watchdog. ”They’re not the kind of laws that benefit and protect people. It’s more to do with somebody having a bug about something and trying to get a law towards it.”
Property owners with rental units were grandfathered in under the ordinance, which means the number of houses that can be rented varies per block. The Institute for Justice says it’s the first ordinance of its kind in the nation.
“Our argument is you cannot be denied your right to rent out your perfectly safe house to perfectly safe tenants just because a neighbor of yours has decided to do the same thing,” said Anthony Sanders, an attorney with the Institute for Justice who represented the homeowners. “Otherwise the government is just picking and choosing who gets to exercise their property rights.”
The city argues the case is about whether it can lay down licensing standards to better the community, and in April, a Winona district court upheld the ordinance.
“There is no indication that the 30% Rule was enacted or conceived as an insidious means of keeping certain constitutionally protected classes of people out of certain neighborhoods or any other improper purpose,” Winona County District Court Judge Jeffrey Thompson wrote in the ruling. “It is a good faith attempt to address real problems.”
The property owners have appealed, but it doesn’t help people like Ted and Lauren Dzierzbicki, who pay an $800 monthly mortgage on an empty house they can no longer legally rent.
“Everybody has to look at these types of laws and realize at some point in time it’s going to affect them,” Ted Dzierzbicki told Watchdog. “Some of these people that live close to the university that were behind this concept of trying to protect their neighborhood, when they pass on, what are their kids going to do with their house? How are they going to get rid of their house?”
Ethan Dean, a former U.S. adviser in Iraq, had bought a house in Winona in 2007 to start a non-profit recovery home for returning soldiers, according to Watchdog. During his deployments, he would rent out the house to help his mortgage payments. That was until the city sent him a letter informing him he was running afoul of the ordinance.
“I am currently on my fourth mission in Iraq,” Dean wrote from his post in an email to a reporter, according to Watchdog. “It kills me to defend our freedoms, when my own home is subject to some 1944 Berlin Nazi BS…I don’t care what the city says, THEY do NOT own MY house…why the he** do I need THEIR permission?????”
According to Watchdog, the League of Minnesota Cities filed a brief supporting Winona, saying in its filing that the court’s decision will have a “significant” impact on cities that already have similar ordinances or are considering them. The filing also states that cities in Minnesota “have a public interest in ensuring the city councils’ legislative decisions receive the constitutionally required deference on appeal.”
Sanders said that hundreds of homeowners across the state are being faced with situations like the Dzierzbickis in cities with similar laws.
“They are unconstitutionally being denied the right to exercise their property rights,” he told Watchdog.