The district court official in charge of reviewing each eviction filing in Olmsted County is anticipating an increase in complaints.

“It looks like things might be ramping up a bit,” referee Gail Baker said Monday after hearing three online cases.

She said 13 complaints were filed by 2 p.m. Oct. 22, followed by another four this week.

RELATED: Rent struggles continue for Minnesota tenants, landlords

It comes after five cases were filed the week of Oct. 11, after the state lifted most lease termination and eviction protections.

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Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said an increase in filing appears to be happening throughout the state, with numbers similar to those before Gov. Tim Walz ordered a pause on evictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a spike from none, but not a spike from pre-pandemic levels,” Ho said of the latest statewide numbers.

While complaints are increasing, not all evictions are allowed to move forward. State rules require any case against a tenant with a pending RentHelp claim be halted until the request for funding is resolved.

RentHelp is the federally funded program run by the state to provide back rent for people who’ve faced COVID impacts to their ability to pay rent.

So far, Minnesota Housing has received 54,810 requests for help paying rent with the requests totaling nearly $357 million. The department reports 35,580 payments have been made, with a combined $178.4 million being sent to landlords throughout the state.

As the work continues, Ho said her department has been working with courts to ensure navigators are available for anyone who hasn’t filed a claim. She added that court officials have shown a desire to mediate potential evictions when possible.

Baker has provided tenants and landlords added time to work out agreements when possible, but she’s also had to move forward with court hearings to determine a final outcome in some cases.

So far, all the cases heard in her virtual courtroom have involved more than the simple non-payment of rent. They’ve included unauthorized guests in apartments, safety concerns, legal offenses and a variety of lease violations.

However, some upcoming cases rely more heavily on the lack of rent payment as the key factor for seeking eviction, which is possible if the tenant hasn’t provided evidence of seeking state aid for paying the rent they owe.

As of Wednesday morning, 11 cases were to be reviewed by Baker on Monday.

The court referee said she plans to expand the two-hour weekly window for first appearances in eviction cases to three hours in November to handle any potential increase.

The first appearance has been crucial for some tenants, because it is where they can get help from attorneys through Legal Assistance of Olmsted County or Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services. It is also where they can enter into negotiations to avoid the mark of an eviction on their rental history.

Even if state help has been requested, a case can move forward quickly if the tenant misses the initial hearing, which was the case in two of the three cases Baker heard Monday.

Karen Fairbairn Nath, executive director of Legal Assistance of Olmsted County, cited concerns about such results when the eviction moratorium was winding down earlier this year.

“It is very important for someone who has been served with the legal paperwork for eviction to show up at that appointed time,” she said at the time.


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