By Charles Hallman
According to City of Minneapolis housing officials, there are at least 200 “problematic properties” among the estimated 85,000 units and 23,000 buildings that are annually inspected. A house fire last month in North Minneapolis that killed five children shed a tragic light on an issue that has persisted for many years.
“The City of Minneapolis does not tolerate landlords who violate rental licensing standards,” states the city’s housing inspections website. “Maintaining a rental license…is a privilege.” Most rental properties are inspected once every eight years to ensure these standards are maintained.
“We only have so many inspectors,” admitted Minneapolis Deputy Housing Inspections Director JoAnn Velde. “We don’t have the resources to go [to properties] every week.” However, if her department gets a complaint from a renter or neighbors, the “problem property” is checked more frequently.
She told the MSR that she expects her staff will grow to 22 after eight new inspectors are hired soon.
Velde also estimates that there are about “100 owners” who are bad and who require “excessive City resources” to get them to comply. Since 2005 there has been a 500 percent increase in rental license revocations of owners who have violated one or more rental standards. Among the 100 most problematic owners, Velde identified Mahmoud Kahn as one of the worst and predicted he will soon be taken to court “to take away all of his [rental] licenses.”
A Minneapolis administrative officer in December recommended that a Khan rental license be revoked due to “eight (8) instances of a nuisance condition” between September 2011 and April 2013 involving trash and weeds.
Another license was revoked in 2010, and a current one has been in review since Christmas Eve of last year, according to City records.
“He owns about 30 to 40 homes on the Northside,” said former Minneapolis city councilmember Don Samuels of Khan, who owns a house in Samuels’ neighborhood. The MSR last week visited five Khan properties in North Minneapolis; two looked abandoned, while three others had occupants’ names on the mailbox but no one answered when we knocked on the door.
Three of his properties also are included on the March list of 578 vacant and condemned properties in Minneapolis. Two were ordered to be torn down in 2011, and a third in 2008 was condemned for lack of maintenance.
If two or more licenses “are revoked or cancelled due to condemnation,” the property owner is ineligible to hold a City rental license for five years. Samuels believes that Khan “should sell them all and give them up.” As a former council member, he recalls seeing the owner “two dozen times on various negative reasons.”
The MSR contacted Khan, whose residence of record is in Roseville. A woman told us that he wasn’t home but gave us his cell phone number. “They say I’m a bad landlord,” said Khan about the City. “The City is giving me a hard time… Every property I buy, I improve it.” Khan is currently appealing the City’s attempt to take away his rental licenses.
A woman who lives down the street from one of Khan’s homes spoke to the MSR on the condition that her identity not be revealed. “I’ve seen the house go down,” said the homeowner, who added that she has seen numerous renters come and go at the house that Khan bought in 2003. When told that the City is looking to revoke his renter licenses, she said, “I hope they would.”
“Bad” landlords are not good for Minneapolis, continued Samuels. “There are a third of really good landlords; a third that are kind of OK, and then a third who are pretty negligent guys — they fix things [only] when people complain. They didn’t pro-actively keep their places up. And of that [last] group, half of them are really bad.”
Samuels also complained about single-family homes being bought by “out-of-town” investors or by persons who live out of the city to rent them out. This “jeopardizes my investment” because some tenants don’t have any vested interest other than paying rent, Samuels said as a homeowner with an investment in his property.
“We need to put a cap on how many rental housing [units] can be on one block of single-family homes. This is not [about] middle-class people who don’t want to live next to poor people. It is in the City’s interest to make sure we don’t drive [good] people out… This is serious economics.”
Samuels, who recently spoke on this problem on a Minnesota Public Radio program, discussed the North Minneapolis fire in February that killed five children. Reportedly the family rented a home where the owner had not responded to problems, such as poor heat.
“Not just housing inspectors will solve the problem” of bad rental properties, said Velde, who advises renters to report problems if their landlord doesn’t solve them in a timely fashion. Samuels pointed out that because bad landlords rent to “people who won’t complain,” renters oftentimes are scared to report the owner to authorities.
“Some people believe that because they are undocumented workers, they don’t have any rights or [will] get in trouble if they complain. Or if they have spotty rental histories or they have a criminal record. A lot of people don’t know their rights.”
Nonetheless, all renters do have rights, stated Greg Marita of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. The nonprofit firm works with clients on many legal matters, including renters with landlords who are not addressing their concerns.
“I’m a pro-active landlord,” said Keith Malmer. “I’ve owned properties in North Minneapolis for 15 years.” He said that once he met with then-councilman Samuels about a bad tenant: “He first read me the riot act. But at the end of the meeting I think I changed his opinion [of me].”
Malmer told the MSR that he expects his renters to respect the neighborhood, the dwelling, and pay their bills. “The properties in North Minneapolis are as nice as my house,” claimed Malmer. “I want to be the nicest house on the block, not the bad landlord. The last thing I want is to have slum owners in the neighborhood.”
The City will soon use “owner profiles” in their computer databases to help identify bad owners, says Velde. “We are tired of spending resources on problematic owners.”
Next week: Both Malmer and Kahn have agreed to take the MSR on a tour of their properties in North Minneapolis. A renter seeking legal advice on a problem landlord can call Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid at 612-334-5970.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.