Latino renters allege mistreatment in Lyndale

Inquilinos Unidos por Justicia (United Renters For Justice), along with several leaders of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA), gathered outside the Q.T Properties office on Hennepin Avenue  to protest the numerous fines and alleged mistreatment levied by the building owners. The associations wielded letters from tenants, and a petition demanding better conditions, demanding management to come outside and negotiate. Some were holding signs, and all were holding a sense of frustration.For the past year, there have been frequent complaints of mistreatment and deterioration of conditions at the buildings from Latino renters, along with difficulties in resigning their leases.“Every other moment they have letters saying we’re going to be fined, for their children playing in the hallway, for using the common area outside the apartment spaces, for leaving shoes or bicycles in common areas. These are things people should be able to do in their living spaces, and not have to fear for retaliation,” said Natasha Villanueva, LNAAs each speaker went up to list off their complaints, a common theme was clear: The heavy fines and shifting lease agreements seem designed to push them out. Most of the latino renters are working-class families who can’t afford to take time off work to deal with management, and the persistent fines are taking a toll.“They fined my car twice, which cost me $700. Continue Reading

FREE SPEECH ZONE | In Search of An Adult Conversation Around Dealing WIth Landlords

I recently left one apartment complex after several years of one issue after another, and went to what seems like another black hole. Bang, thud, drop, bang, drag, thud drop welcomed me from the neighbors upstairs as I moved in.  Thinking this would just be a phase, and trying to be a good neighbor, I just let it go for the first day.  When it became clear that this would go on for 8 hours or more a day, I tried to go to my landlord about it.  “It was living noises” so therefore they aren’t interested in doing anything.  I didn’t care what they did in their own apartment, but when their “living” determined when I went to sleep at night, how long I got to sleep and how loud I needed to have my tv in order to hear it, it was a problem.I asked my landlord why they were making this out to be a tenant issue, when the problem was really with the building.  The building was built in 1966 and there is nothing between the floors except a well-worn carpet and they know this isn’t the first time this has happened.  In addition, it would be relatively inexpensive to put down a layer of mass loaded vinyl under the carpet or to put in an accoustical drop ceiling, and in doing so, they would probably stop the bleed of the high turnover rates, I found out later, that the complex has.  The response came in the form of a letter from their attorney defending their right to “cheap construction.” (That was his description of the property, not mine).  He stated that the noises I am hearing are “typical” of community living and not excessive.  I would agree, if I was living in a dorm, but dragging, dropping, banging, and hearing other people’s conversations over their tv should not be “typical” by any stretch of the imagination.  Nor should floors that creak loudly when you step in certain places.Stunned, amazed and somewhat amused, I started to break this down and see what and how much of this I can address through other channels.  That oddessy has turned out to be as bizarre as the letter from the lawyer.First, there is a state law that says anything above a “normal conversation” is excessive.  Even with “cheap construction”, if their conversation were at a “normal” level, I wouldn’t be able to hear them, let alone understand what they were saying.  So, I asked the attorney general to give me a definition of the state statute.  She can’t tell me what the law means.  I need a lawyer to tell me what the law means.  But aren’t you a lawyer and one in charge of the state statutes?  Logic lost out on that one, too.Then there is the city.  The city does have a noise ordinance, and keeps telling me to call the police.  This would make sense if they were having a party and there was loud music, but what part of the dragging, dropping and banging are the police going to hear when I call them?  It’s going to stop at least long enough for them to answer the door.Then I go to the county.  The response from my commissioner’s office was the county has no regulatory authority and offered a list of other useless resources along with a “good luck” at the end of the email.    When I asked her to introduce me to those people, if she was sure those were appropriate resources, she no longer responded.What I would love to see is a “truth in rental” statute, along the lines of what happens when selling a house.  Owners have to disclose known issues.  I appreciate their right to “cheap construction” but where is my right to making an informed decision?  Had I known I would be forced to have a room mate by virtue of their constant noise, I would have kept looking. I pay my rent on time, I don’t destroy property, and I believe my space should not be shared unless I want to share it.What I would also love to see is something other than a court system in order to deal with this type of thing.  There are cases where things should be handled in court, but there should be more options available than just that.  Condescending bullies like my landlord’s attorney count on people not knowing they have rights or what those rights are.  They also count on nobody else stepping up.I volunteer with the Minneapolis Restorative Justice program, and I see that model having a lot of promise for  being one of the tools in dealing with landlord / tennant issues.  It allows for a conversation, it has accountability and it looks for solutions to addressing the issues.  There are good landlords, there are some who could be better with a little education, and there are some who will never believe having a grown up conversation is important.  However, I also have to believe that this could be a great forum for helping renters be better – and better informed – tenants, as well.And for those who have gotten this far and want to ask me why I don’t just move.  My response to that is it’s an easy answer for someone who has money to pay movers and all the other costs associated with moving, but it doesn’t really solve the problem with the bigger picture of it all.  It also doesn’t hold my landlord accountable and it means they get to do this to the next person who moves in.   Free Speech ZoneThe Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases. Continue Reading

Minneapolis Congressional hearings focus on foreclosure and housing crisis

Congressmember Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity joined Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) for a congressional hearing examining the foreclosure and affordable housing crisis in the Twin Cities on January 23 at Central Library in Minneapolis. They heard from two panels, which included leaders from Minneapolis, advocates, and people with firsthand experience of the crisis.The first panel comprised local government officials such as State Senator Linda Higgins, State Representative Jim Davnie, Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, Minnesota State Housing Agency Commissioner Dan Barholomay, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Deputy Assistant Secretary Erika Poethig, and Minneapolis’s Director of Housing Policy and Development Tom Streitz.Members of the first panel agreed that there would be no end to the foreclosure crisis and housing crisis any time soon, but said that Minnesota had strong collaborations in place to deal with the problems at hand. “We may not have led the nation in suffering from the foreclosure crisis,” said Jim Davnie, “but Minnesota has led in response to it by working collaboratively.”Competition from private investors was a major concern for a number of the panelists. Gail Dorfman said that particularly in suburban areas, where foreclosures increasingly occur, private investors and speculators continually snatch up propertiesbefore potential homeowners seeking to use NSP funds can buy, because of the delays that occur with NSP requirements, such as environmental assessments. Dorfman said she was worried about meeting the September 30 deadline for spending the NSP funds.Tom Streitz said that NSP funding requires properties be sold at a discount, so private investors can offer more money for the properties. “Speculators and investors have an edge up,” he said.In response, Keith Ellison said that “we are defeating our own purpose,” if all the requirements mean that potential homeowners are losing out on buying homes.In the second panel, housing advocates gave witness to the ways they have been using NSP funds thus far, and what more needs to be done.  Two victims of the foreclosure and affordable housing crisis spoke from their personal experience.Chip Halbach, from the Minnesota Housing Partnership, said that while NSP is a good program, it does little to help those on the lowest rung of the economic scale.”We need more affordable housing,” for those living in poverty and for those who are homeless, Halbach said.Michael Dahl, from HOMELine, thanked Keith Ellison for passing tenants rights legislation, but said that it should be permanent. Continue Reading

Minnesota Tenants Union Amicus Curiae Letter Defends Sheriff Dart’s Moratorium on Evicting Tenants from Foreclosed Buildings

Just One Example of the Fight for Recognition that Housing is a Human Right, More Important than Property Interest
The Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases.In coalition with tenant advocacy groups nationwide, the Minnesota Tenants Union has submitted a grass-roots Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) Letter to the Cook County judge presiding over a lawsuit brought by a California mortgage company to force Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart to evict tenants from foreclosed property. The Amicus Curiae Letter (see below) is co-sponsored by 8 tenant advocacy groups in New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis and calls on the judge to dismiss the mortgage company’s suit asserting that the company’s actions violated the human right to housing and the company’s failure to serve notice of its suit and underlying foreclosure action on the real parties in interest, the affected tenants. Sheriff Dart gained national attention earlier this month by publicly declaring a moratorium on evicting tenants from foreclosed properties in Cook County (Chicago area). His action brought a supportive response from tenant groups and others applauding his stand. Continue Reading

Section 8 Program faces imminent housing crisis

A sign of things to come: an owner of three apartment complexes in Greater Minnesota, notified his low-income and mostly elderly tenants that he will be exiting the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Section 8 rent-subsidy program in one year. His decision stems from HUD’s failure to pay tenant subsidies for several months last summer. The experience of this building owner marks the beginning of an emerging crisis in the Section 8 program. It could lead to massive displacement of low-income families and the loss of hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing if nothing is done. The project-based Section 8 program houses 1.3 million low-income households in the US. Continue Reading