North Minneapolis rental property owners refute slumlord label, place responsibility for code violations on problem renters

Mahmood Khan outside a rental property in North Minneapolis (Photos by Charles Hallman)

City landlords Keith Malmer and Mahmood Khan both do not see themselves as “slum landlords” simply because the majority of their properties are located on Minneapolis’ North Side. They insist they are making the best effort they can to select good tenants and maintain the properties.

“I like to think I’m being pro-active with the houses I own and manage,” said Malmer, who began acquiring foreclosed and auctioned properties in the early 2000s. “Given my limited financial resources, I’m spending every dollar I got to make sure my properties are kept up the best I can. It’s a real strategy to make sure that you are taking care of the basics, and hopefully make things as nice as possible at the same time.”

“I am buying older properties, fixing them up, making them look good for the neighborhood,” said Khan. In part one of this story, which ran in last week’s edition of the MSR (“Small group of slumlords has big effect on city”), Minneapolis Deputy Housing Inspections Director JoAnn Velde indentified Kahn as one of the worst landlords in the city.

Both Kahn and Malmer invited the MSR to tour their places, and we visited several of the two men’s dwellings on separate “tours” last week.

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“A lot of my renters are on Section 8,” noted Malmer, as he drove to a house on Knox Avenue North being fixed up for a new tenant who was expected to move in last weekend. The renter as well as two others all later agreed to speak to the MSR if their names were not published.

“He’s a good landlord,” said a mother of four who has lived in one of Malmer’s properties for two years. She said that the owners of other rental properties she’s lived in weren’t as responsive or respectful as Malmer. “They downgraded me and felt they didn’t have to come fix things. They talked to me any way they wanted to.”

Left: Keith Malmer inside a North Minneapolis rental property

“I was homeless,” said a mother of three who recently moved into a Malmer-owned home, taking over the lease from a friend who unexpectedly was offered a job out of town. “I love living in this house.” She added that Malmer regularly does maintenance, such as checking the furnace.

A female renter of five years called Malmer “the best landlord I had.” She had two previous landlords at the same property. “I’ve been getting stuff done since Keith took over,” she noted.

“I don’t want to cut corners,” Malmer said while standing in the remodeled kitchen of a restored single-family home. “We primarily have three-bedroom single-family homes.”

Khan, in response to being described by one City of Minneapolis housing official as among the worst landlords, asked, “What you do mean when you say ‘slum landlord’? I don’t think I’m a slum landlord. A slum landlord is someone who doesn’t care about their tenants or the neighborhood. I’ve [been] doing this for about 30 years.”

He said that he addresses problems when they come to his attention. “I’m not afraid to come into the neighborhood at any time,” declared Khan, who started buying and owning properties in North Minneapolis in 1998. He said he doesn’t understand why he has been so maligned by some City officials, including former city council member Don Samuels, who lives near one of Khan’s homes.

“The City has put him on the radar,” said Samuels of Khan.

In a letter he sent last September to then-mayor R.T. Rybak, the city council and City inspectors, Kahn wrote, “I humbly ask that the property inspectors and City Council members reject any bias that may exist against me because of my foreign-born background or my religion… Most of my rental income goes back into improving my properties, and I have devoted a lot of time, money, and energy for upkeep to these properties.”

Asked about allegations that he has been cited many times for violations, including a decision last December that recommended that he lose a rental license for a house on 4th Street North, he responded, “I’m working on properties and dealing with tenants. They are saying I’m bad because my tenants are bad. I cannot catch people because they have people come in there or the police [are called].”

On the 4th Street dwelling, “The [former] lady tenant had a swimming pool in the back and put trash in the back. I went in front of the judge and explained that the best I can,” Khan said. “They gave me chances to clean it up…but they found it as a nuisance. I’ve sold it on a contract-for-deed.”

During a walk-through at a four-bedroom duplex on the North Side that has been completely redone inside, Kahn continued, “I get about 30 to 40 calls a day. I don’t want to put just anybody in there.”

He admitted that he has had problem tenants: “I’m selective about it, but sometimes, even after being selective, you can be wrong. Whatever they [City inspectors] ask me to do, I get it done. If I have bad tenants, who doesn’t?

“Even in the city housing projects, they evict people all the time. Don’t they have problems? Don’t they have issues in fixing things, and how many times [does] the City give them citations? Are you calling them slumlords?”

When asked if there might be a personality issue between him and City officials, Kahn responded, “I don’t like to think like that,” admitting “I’m sometimes late [in addressing a citation] and pay the fine.”

Greg Erickson, who rents his Northside home from Khan, told the MSR, “I’ve been living here for about seven years.” When asked if the homeowner was a bad landlord, he said, “I noticed of all the accusations of calling Mr. Khan a slumlord, a lot of that has to do with the quality of the person who lives there and the quality of how they live. I know that a lot of people push that on him and he does the best he can.”

“We take care of our places,” said Malmer. “We try to be pro-active as much as possible.” Asked if he believes he is in good standing with City officials, he said, “I think so.”

“Before you judge and jump to conclusions, come and look at my properties,” suggested Khan. “I invite everybody who wants to look at my properties [to] see for yourself if I am a slum landlord or not a slum landlord. I invited Mr. Don Samuels, but he was on a high horse and didn’t want to come.

“I say this to the city council — I do my best… You can’t put everything on the landlord. Don’t just judge people because one side is saying I am a slumlord.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman [at] spokesman-recorder [dot] com.

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Charles Hallman's picture
Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman writes regularly for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and blogs at Another View.