Riverside tenants’ complaints heard at meeting with Councilman Cam Gordon

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The city of Minneapolis is taking steps to address resident issues in Riverside Plaza.

City Councilman Cam Gordon held a meeting Tuesday at the Brian Coyle Community Center to inform residents of their rights as renters.

The gathering stemmed from a previous meeting, during which tenants voiced complaints about various issues they had with the property, like accessibility and fire safety, Gordon said.

Mobilizing people is one of the main challenges to get tenants’ voices heard, said Abdulkadir Warsame, executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenant Association.

“That is why we want these kinds of meetings: to get people aware that they have rights and they also have responsibilities,” Warsame said.

There is a lack of sympathy and respect from the property managers in dealing with tenant issues, he said.

Riverside Plaza tenants — particularly recent immigrants — may not know what their rights are, so it is important they are informed, said Michael Schmitz, executive director of the West Bank Community Coalition.

“Just knowing that there are places and organizations in the neighborhood and the city that they can go to for help. I think that can be an empowering thing,” he said.

Riverside Plaza is managed by Sherman Associates and has been under renovation since early 2011. The plaza houses nearly 5,000 residents, mainly Somali immigrants.

Hani Mohamed, program manager for the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program, said the meeting was beneficial. Many problems have been left unfixed because of a language barrier, she said.

“It was crucial, because this was the information needed by residents,” she said.

The meeting was videotaped for those not in attendance, and a translator was present for those unable to speak English.

Prior to the meeting, Mohamed held weekly two-hour meetings for three months, where tenants could come and voice concerns about the property.

She said at one time the tenants formed a petition asking property managers to make repairs, which received about 300 signatures.

The building’s construction is more than 75 percent complete and hasn’t faced any delays, said Mahad Farah, a property manager with Sherman Associates.

He said there have been renovations to the plumbing, elevators and fire sprinklers.

Perry Ebner, a Minneapolis fire marshal, attended the meeting and said the fire department inspects each building every four years.

The Minneapolis Fire Department has about 3,000 rental properties to inspect over a period of four years, he said.

The last inspection was in December 2011, but after the renovations, the building would be up to fire and international building codes, he said.

“As long as they’re in compliance with either one, they literally can do the bare minimums and stop at that point,” he said.

Margot Imdieke Cross, an accessibility specialist with the Minnesota State Council on Disability, told residents if they had problems with accessibility they should file a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

After the renovation, the complex will have 55 handicap-accessible units compared to five previously, Farah said.

Genevieve Gaboriault Nordin, a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, attended the meeting and told tenants to put their problems in writing for the landlord.

“Obviously if your landlord responds when you just ask for things you don’t need to take this step,” she said, “but you probably wouldn’t be at this meeting if it was working that easily.”