Jefferson to move students from over-occupied units

Eric Swanson

Sophomore Kelly Walter did not think much of it when Jefferson Commons employees first told her that one or two of her five roommates would have to move out by next year. Then she asked what they meant by next year.

“And they said, ‘Well, as soon as possible – like by January.'”

Several dozen students living in six-person Jefferson Commons units were told last week that one or two roommates will need to move as soon as possible. Apartment complex managers apparently noticed it was not in compliance with city zoning regulations.

Jefferson Commons declined to comment, but residents said they are being forced to relocate within the four-building apartment complex.

Students interviewed said Jefferson Commons employees provided few specifics, but some said they were told zoning issues were behind the shuffling.

One group of sophomores was so upset they hung a banner off a third-floor balcony facing I-94 that reads: “Unique Student Housing: Dried Out Hot Tub, Flooded Utilities and a Christmas Eviction. Welcome to Jefferson Commons.”

“It was really rude of them to come up, scare us and leave,” said sophomore Elizabeth Miller, who made the banner with her roommates. She and others said they chose to live in Jefferson Commons because it featured six-person apartments.

Ricardo Cervantez, a district manager with Minneapolis Housing Inspections Services, said the area is zoned for a maximum of five unrelated people sharing a living space.

He said city inspectors had heard about possible over-occupancy issues at Jefferson Commons, but the city has not taken any action because no formal complaints have been made.

“A representative from Jefferson Commons said they are not over-occupied,” Cervantez said. “There has been no complaint or investigation by the city.”

Students who have to switch rooms share four-bedroom apartments with five other roommates. According to a construction completion report filed with the city in October, Jefferson Commons has 12 four-bedroom apartments.

For the inconvenience, students said, Jefferson Commons is offering them $150 off a month’s rent. According to their leases, the residents are entitled to a five-day advance notice before being relocated within their building.

Tenant Brett Cummings, who lives in one of the over-occupied apartments, said he and his roommates were told that whoever left would be set up in another Jefferson Commons apartment. He said the problem is that students might have to move in with strangers.

Residents also said the moving notices come at the most stressful time of the year.

“We have finals going – it’s crunch time. I don’t have time to move out right now,” sophomore Katie Hester said. “They were not straightforward at all. They illegally put six people here, ignored the law and now they’re trying to cover their butts.”

Students said they have many unanswered questions, including whether they will be allowed out of their current leases.

Barbara Boysen of University Student Legal Service said that in most cases renters sign leases for a specific unit, meaning the leases might be voided if they are asked to leave that unit.

Jefferson Commons leases obtained by the Daily were for specific units but also contain a clause that management could move tenants to another unit on five days’ notice.

Bill Dane of Student Legal Service said if a current lease is broken, property managers cannot force tenants to sign a new lease.

He said Jefferson Commons likely knew about the zoning laws because the city inspects new apartment buildings before residents can legally move in.

“It seems odd that someone wouldn’t have seen this problem,” Dane said.