Renters Facing Problems - KXNet.com - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

Renters Facing Problems

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For renters and mobile home owners, recovery from the 2011 flood has been especially hard.

They're faced with a market that's squeezed in terms of supply, and made unaffordable by high demand.

And an attorney with Legal Services of North Dakota says the combination has led to some potentially illegal moves by property owners and some difficult decisions for tenants.

Jim Olson reports.

(Breezy Schmidt, Legal Services of ND) "This is a unique situation that hasn't been seen anywhere else in the country."

Attorney Breezy Schmidt is talking about the housing crunch that has gripped the Minot area for two years, ever since the Mouse River wiped out thousands of housing units in the city. She says the lack of housing options for people - especially renters - has led to very difficult choices for people struggling to afford a roof over their heads.

(Breezy Schmidt, Legal Services of ND) "When the flood occurred we expected a spike in housing cases and that spike did occur, they increased dramatically. However they have not decreased like we thought they would after the flood."

Schmidt works in housing law for Legal Services of North Dakota. She says she's seeing some very unusual provisions showing up in lease agreements. For example, a limit on the number of times a tenant is allowed to call police.

(Breezy Schmidt, Legal Services of ND) "It's completely unlawful. It's unlawful to tell anyone they can't seek assistance from law enforcement."

Another new provision is one that says a tenant can't have any firearms. The first-year lawyer says that one is a bit murky legally, but she thinks there are cases where such a limitation infringes on a tenant's rights. In general, she says landlords as a whole have been pretty reasonable with tenants. But she says some have tried to capitalize on the tight housing market by jacking up rents and adding questionable requirements to leases.

(Breezy Schmidt, Legal Services of ND) "Basically their position is if this person can't pay rent or won't do what I want them to do we'll just get them out and get somebody new in. We really wish we could go forward with some of these cases but we have to understand that landlord retaliation is a very real fear and if they are evicted or their lease is terminated whether it's lawful or unlawful, they still have to find a new place to live and it's so difficult to find affordable or even accessible housing that many people are choosing not to go forward with any sort of litigation."

She encourages anyone who thinks a lease or rental agreement is not quite right to contact Legal Services of North Dakota for a free review of the situation. The group offers free legal representation in many cases. And she says even without actually going to court, she's already helped many tenants to become more secure in their housing situations.

(Breezy Schmidt, Legal Services of ND) "The best part of this job is when I'm able to keep people in their housing and prevent them from being homeless."

Jim Olson, KX News.

You can call Legal Services of North Dakota at 852-3870 from anywhere in North Dakota.

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