The governor’s emergency executive orders prohibiting evictions could be applied to shut-offs of essential services.
There have been lots of questions coming to League staff related to a city’s ability to shut off water/sewer during the peacetime emergency.
The League’s position is still that cities should not be shutting off residential water services for nonpayment. Initially, Executive Order 20-14 was issued by Gov. Walz, preventing most evictions. That has now been mostly replaced by Executive Order 20-79, which continues that prohibition except in specific public health and safety situations or if the owner of the property intends to use the property as his or her primary residence.
Shut-off may equal ‘constructive eviction’
The Minnesota attorney general has said that shutting off residential water service could be considered a “constructive eviction” because homes are not considered habitable if there is not running water. Related, as a normal rule of practice, cities should not shut off utilities at the request of a landlord when they know the residential property is being occupied.
The League has been communicating regularly with the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association (MMUA) to ensure that our advice and positions are consistent. While aspects of the Minnesota Cold Weather Rule can apply to water utilities being disconnected, residents do not necessarily have to enter into payment plans to keep their utilities on during the peacetime emergency.
We suggest that cities work with their city attorneys on appropriate responses but consider using alternate approaches for collection of past-due accounts, such as voluntary payment plan arrangements or transmittal to the county for collection of unpaid balances through property tax collection.
New fund could address past-due utility costs
The governor recently announced the establishment of a $100 million fund to help individuals experiencing housing insecurity due to COVID-19.
While details of how residents can access funds from the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) are not yet available, past-due utility costs are one of the expenses that was mentioned in the press briefing as an expense eligible to be covered the by the fund. The League will keep members updated as details emerge about the program and how cities would need to manage those types of reimbursements.