Students anxious over house inspections

by Koran Addo

Imminent inspection sweeps through the Dinkytown, Southeast Como and Marcy-Holmes neighborhoods have landlords on edge and students anxious for results.

“Every landlord around here is on pins and needles,” Dinkytown landlord Rusty Turpin said. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen and what (inspectors) are going to be looking for.”

Following a house fire Saturday in a Dinkytown duplex, which killed three University students, city officials announced Monday increased inspections in an effort to crack down on rental property code violations.

Turpin said despite regular maintenance, old buildings are difficult to keep up to code.

“Some of them weren’t built to be around this long,” Turpin said.

He said he performs routine maintenance year-round and checks emergency systems – including smoke alarms – in his units annually.

Several University student renters, however, said they are looking forward to the inspections.

“I want them to inspect my house,” junior Alison Behm said. “I’d want to know if anything is wrong and have my landlord fix it.”

Junior Rebekah Calonder said she is equally supportive of inspections.

“It’s a really good idea,” Calonder said. “I’m a little concerned because a lot of houses are not up to code.”

Serious concerns

Calonder said she has some concerns about the inspections because two of her friends were recently evicted because of housing code violations.

“It’s going to be a big hassle to be evicted and have to move,” she said.

John Bergquist, director of Minneapolis operations and regulatory services, said Monday that inspectors will look carefully at over-occupancy in rental units, which could displace tenants.

When a house is over-occupied, the inspector will order the landlord to bring it to the legal limit, said University Student Legal Service legal assistant Barb Boysen.

“In these cases, the tenant is usually given 30 days to move,” Boysen said.

Boysen said students can either choose who leaves or challenge the lease.

If students force one roommate to leave, Boysen said, they should renegotiate their lease to include rent reduction.

Students can challenge the lease if it includes an illegal number of tenants. In that case, their lease could be voided.

Behm said if she was evicted, she would have to move home and commute to campus. Her roommates also said they could not pay the extra rent if one tenant was evicted.

Minnesota Student Association President Eric Dyer said he is skeptical of the focus on over-occupancy, which he said might not benefit students.

“Since the focus is on over-occupancy it has taken the blame off of absentee landlords and the neglect they have shown for both their property and their tenants over the years,” Dyer said.

Boysen said students might not be aware of over-occupancy when they sign a lease.

“I don’t think it is safe to assume that tenants knowingly over-occupy,” Boysen said.

In her experience, she said, landlords are often at fault.

“A lot of time the landlord is fully aware (of over-occupancy) from the outset,” Boysen said. In these cases, landlords have only the legal number of tenants sign the lease but allow more to live there.

Sometimes landlords encourage tenants to find more roommates to make rent cheaper, Boysen said.

Students living in an over-occupied apartment should seek legal advice immediately, Boysen said.

Calonder said if she knew inspections would get her kicked out, she would not let inspectors in her house.

But Boysen said inspectors have several ways of determining occupancy. They can ask tenants for a copy of the lease, check the number of names on mailboxes or even count the number of beds.