Focus on New Laws: Sacred Settlements

September 5, 2023

Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, cities must allow faith communities to site micro units on religious property to house chronically homeless individuals, extremely low-income individuals, and volunteers.

During the 2023 legislative session, the Legislature passed a bill authorizing religious institutions beginning Jan.1, 2024, to site micro-unit dwellings on religious institution property. It also requires cities to permit sacred settlements of micro units either via a permitted use or conditional use.

The bill was signed into law as Chapter 53 in 2023 Session Law. The language can be found in Chapter 53, Article 11, Section 57.

Micro-unit eligibility

Micro-unit dwellings within sacred settlements are intended to provide an additional means for faith communities to serve chronically homeless individuals, designated volunteers, and extremely low-income individuals in accordance with their religious vocations.

  • An individual who meets the definition of being chronically homeless is someone who is unhoused and lives or resides in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven, or in an emergency shelter for at least one year, or on at least four separate occasions in the last three years.
  • An individual who meets the definition of being extremely low income has an income that is equal to or less than 30% of the area median income.
  • A designated volunteer is an individual who has not experienced homelessness and is approved by the religious institution to live in the sacred settlement as their sole form of housing.
  • The language defines a religious institution to include a church, synagogue, mosque, or religious organization organized under Minnesota Statutes Chapter 315.

Micro-unit requirements

There are myriad of requirements and minimum standards in the statutory language that address both the standards for the micro units themselves as well as requirements and restrictions for faith communities that chose to establish a sacred settlement of micro units on their religious property.

Under the new law, micro units must meet certain building requirements and standards to be allowed for placement in a sacred settlement on religious property.

All micro units must be built to the requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Code 119.5, which includes standards for heating, electrical, fire, and life safety.

Additionally, micro units are subject to inspection for compliance with statutory standards and must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Be no more than 400 gross square feet.
  • Be built on a permanent chassis and anchored to pin foundations with engineered fasteners.
  • Have exterior material compatible in composition, appearance, and durability to materials used in standard residential construction.
  • Meet minimum framing standards and insulation ratings for doors and windows and include a dry, compostable, or plumbed toilet meeting Minnesota Pollution Control Agency rules.
  • Include smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and comply with municipal setback requirements if established by ordinance or be set back on all sides by at least 10 feet if no ordinance exists.
  • Have access to water and electric utilities either by connecting the units to the principal building or by providing access to permanent common kitchen facilities and common facilities for toilet, bathing, and laundry consistent with boarding house requirements under Minnesota Rules, part 1305.2902.

Minimum standards for settlements

In addition to the requirements for individual units, the law establishes minimum standards for the religious institution’s operation of the settlement itself, which will be important to reference if a city choses to permit settlements and units via a conditional use permit to ensure compliance.

Minimum standards for settlements include:

  • Appropriate level of insurance and have between one-third and 40% of the micro units occupied by designated volunteers.
  • Adherence to all laws governing landlord and tenants under Minnesota Statutes Chapter 504B.
  • A written plan provided to the city in which the settlement is approved by the religious institution’s governing board that includes:
    • Plans for disposal of water and sewage if not plumped and septic tank drainage if plumped units are not connected to the primary worship location’s system.
    • Adequate parking, lighting, and access to units by emergency vehicles.
    • Protocols for security and addressing conduct within the settlement as well as safety protocols for severe weather.
  • Authorization by a municipality as either a permitted use or conditional use without the application of additional standards not included in the bill.

Further considerations

The League recommends that cities be in communication with the religious institutions in their community and inquire about their plans with respect to this new law.

Additionally, consider specific parameters in a conditional use permit or ordinance to ensure compliance for micro units and sacred settlements that are outlined in statute leading up to the effective date of Jan. 1, 2024.

The League will continue to closely monitor the impacts of this language and continue to help provide guidance to cities on this new law.

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