June 24, 2024

A Look at the St. Paul Rent Stabilization Ordinance

In November 2021, the residents of St. Paul, Minnesota voted to implement one of the most stringent rent stabilization ordinances in the United States. This landmark decision reflects growing concerns over housing affordability and tenant protection amidst rising rental costs. The ordinance was amended by the city council in September 2022 and changes to the law took effect January 1, 2023. Here’s a closer look at the rules, objectives, exceptions, and implications of the ordinance.

What is the Rent Stabilization Ordinance?

The St. Paul Rent Stabilization Ordinance applies to almost all rental properties in St. Paul (single-family homes, duplexes, and apartment buildings) and limits residential rent increases to no more than 3% in a 12-month period. The ordinance also establishes vacancy control, an uncommon rent control measure in the United States due to state laws like California’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which specifically ban vacancy control. Vacancy control extends the 3% annual limit to new tenants, not just existing tenants, which means landlords are not allowed to reset their rents to market rates when units become vacant. The broad application and strict measures of the St. Paul Rent Stabilization Ordinance make it one of the most extensive rent control measures in the country.

Why was the Ordinance Introduced?

St. Paul, like many cities across the United States, has experienced significant increases in rental prices over the past decade. These rising costs have made it increasingly difficult for low- and middle-income families to secure affordable housing. The ordinance was introduced in response to these challenges and is intended to provide renters with predictable and manageable rent increases to help ensure that housing remains affordable for tenants.

Are There Exceptions to the Ordinance?

The ordinance allows exceptions for low-income housing and new constructions. Landlords of rental units that qualify for these two exceptions are not required to obtain city approval. However, landlords are required to provide notice to prospective tenants that the rental unit is not subject to the ordinance. Therefore, it is recommended that landlords reach out to The Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) to confirm their exemption status. DSI may supply the owner with a letter indicating their status

  • Low-Income Housing Provider Exception: The ordinance aims to exempt affordable housing whose rents are already regulated by the government in an agreement between the landlord and a government agency.
  • 20-year New Construction Exception: This exception applies to new construction (from the ground up) and when non-residential property is converted to residential property. Owners may request the certificate of occupancy information from DSI and the department will provide a letter including the date of occupancy and the date the new construction exemption no longer applies (20 years after the date of occupancy).

 In addition to the low-income and new construction exceptions, landlords may seek an exemption from the ordinance under certain conditions. Landlords looking to apply for an exemption should be prepared to submit a detailed application and comprehensive financial documentation to the city to demonstrate their need for an exception and work through the city’s review process. Here are a few reasons landlords can request an exception:

  • Hardship Petition: Landlords can file hardship petitions if they believe adhering to the 3% rent increase limit would not allow them to cover their necessary expenses or earn a reasonable return on their investment.
  • Vacancy Control Exemptions: Landlords can seek vacancy control exemptions if they can demonstrate that the current rent is significantly below market rate and that maintaining such low rent would cause undue financial hardship.

Implications for Tenants and Landlords

For tenants, the ordinance offers a significant degree of financial protection and housing stability. They can budget more effectively knowing that their rent will not increase more than 3% annually. This stability is particularly important for low-income families, people on fixed incomes, and other financially at-risk populations.

For landlords, the ordinance presents several challenges. Many argue that the 3% limit does not account for rising maintenance costs, property taxes, and other expenses, potentially leading to deferred property maintenance and reduced investment in new housing developments. Many landlords also argue that the vacancy control significantly reduces their profitability and limits their ability to adjust to market conditions.

Response to Criticism and Concern

Since its implementation, the St. Paul Rent Stabilization Ordinance has sparked substantial criticism. Critics argue that the stringent rent limit will deter investment in new housing and exacerbate the city’s housing shortage in the long run. They also express concerns that the ordinance may lead to unintended consequences, such as landlords converting rental units into condominiums or opting out of the rental market altogether.

In response to these concerns, city officials and housing advocates continue to evaluate the impact of the ordinance and there have been discussions about possible amendments, such as allowing for higher rent increases under certain conditions or providing more incentives for landlords to invest in property maintenance and improvements.


The St. Paul Rent Stabilization Ordinance is a significant and stringent measure that attempts to address housing affordability and protect tenants in an era of rising rental costs. While it offers significant benefits to renters, it poses serious challenges for landlords and the broader housing market.

As the ordinance continues to be implemented and evaluated, it will be crucial for policymakers, landlords, and tenants to work together to ensure that the goals of affordability and housing stability are met without stifling housing development and investment. St. Paul’s experience with rent stabilization will undoubtedly serve as a valuable case study for other cities grappling with similar challenges.

For more information, visit the Rent Stabilization Webpage on St. Paul’s government website.

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