City fines punish the poor

doll house

Fines from the city are sometimes used as punishments or incentives. The registered vacant building program is a great example. Some homeowners end up in the program because the city has determined that their home is not fit to live in. The house becomes a “category 2” registered vacant building even though the owner is often still living in it and there hasn’t been a code compliance inspection. Category 2 is the designation for multiple code violations.

The owners of these properties are charged a $5000 fee. When they can not pay it the fee is attached to their property taxes. The owners may be seniors on fixed incomes and others who are struggling to make ends meet. The largest concentration of these houses are in the neighborhoods with the lowest average home values.

Fines are not based on income they are the same for everyone.

For people who are living at the poverty level or slightly above a $5000 fine can cause a downward spiral that they can not recover from. It is meant to be an incentive to fix up the property but it doesn’t seem to work that way. It may be an incentive for wealthier homeowners and the owners of rental properties but for people who are struggling financially, it is just plain cruel.

Research done at the Humphry Institute suggests that cities target low-income residents and people of color with fines and fees. Court fees and legal fees can also disproportionally hurt the poor. They are not based on income.

To learn more about the City of St. Paul registered vacant building program go to and search for “registered vacant building program”. I don’t like to put links to pages on the city website because they rearrange them frequently and I end up with dead links.

Also, see The city of St. Paul is cruel to the elderly

There is a property tax deferral program in Minnesota for elderly homeowners who can not pay their property taxes. The program may help seniors who can not pay their property taxes.

I believe that there should be health and safety standards for property in St. Paul but I don’t think fining the poor is going to get us there. They will end up using money that could have been used to fix up the house to pay fines.

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