ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, March 23, signed an executive order that will keep most Minnesota renters from being evicted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Landlords and property owners will not be able to file for eviction in court until the order is rescinded or until the peacetime emergency that Walz last week declared is over. Tenants will still have to pay their rent, however, something that legislators and housing groups hope to help out with.

Walz's order Monday came amid a wave of job losses brought about by a worsening pandemic. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the infectious respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, continues to climb and grew by 66 on Monday alone.

That announcement brought the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 235, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

To beat those numbers back, restaurants, bars, salons and other businesses have been shut down at Walz's orders since last week. Business closures then gave way to layoffs, and what began in the United States as a public health crisis became an economic one, too.

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Nearly 100,000 people applied to Minnesota's unemployment insurance program in the aftermath, sparking fears that the loss of work would soon evolve into a loss of shelter. Federal regulators responded by agreeing to waive mortgage payments and evictions for some borrowers and public housing beneficiaries, but such breaks have not been widely granted to renters.

A Minnesota Supreme Court order did on March 13 put a halt to all but the most serious eviction cases. And with his order Monday, Walz forbid all evictions except those centered on tenants who pose safety risks.

A day before Walz's eviction freeze, the Minnesota Multi Housing Association — a rental property managers group — advised members to not evict their tenants during the pandemic as well. The group also recommended that landlords waive late fees, work out repayment plans with struggling renters and direct them toward financial and health resources.

But at the state level, policymakers and regulators have not yet moved to provide emergency aid meant to be put toward rent itself.

"That’s what a lot of our clients are calling us about right now,” Home Line executive director Eric Hauge said Monday.

Hauge said Home Line, a tenants advocacy group, supported Walz's move to suspend evictions but would like to see Minnesota provide some form of rent assistance for those affected by the pandemic.

Legislation proposed by state Rep. Michael Howard, D-Richfield, calls for the establishment of a program that would provide such assistance, but its future is still up in the air. The same bill, which Hauge said Home Line still supports, called for eviction moratoriums during public health emergencies like the one raging today.

Howard said Monday that he was grateful to Walz for instituting the freeze, and that "the big objective is to make sure that people won't be displaced." If an agreement with Senate Republicans can be reached, he said he hoped to put the assistance program up for a vote.

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