Como residents pick up city’s slack on enforcing ordinance violations

For two summers, volunteers have notified officials of neighbors breaking city code.

Katie Fournier snoops in her neighbors’ yards. But it’s for a good reason, she said.

Looking for potential ordinance violations, the 39-year Southeast Como Improvement Association livability and housing chairwoman is trying to do work the city doesn’t have the resources to do.

“They try to inspect the property, but they don’t have very good tools at the moment,” Fournier said.

Ordinance violation and enforcement isn’t a new problem, Fournier said, but the City of Minneapolis is having a difficult time fixing it.

For the past two summers, Fournier and volunteers have taken checklists of violations around neighborhood properties, and notified the city of neighbors that are breaking code.

This year, the “citizen inspection teams” won’t be inspecting Southeast Como because the city reduced the number of ordinance violations to look for, and volunteers felt the city didn’t do anything to enforce them, she said.

Ward 2 neighborhood Councilman Cam Gordon said the city’s ability to enforce penalties for violations is difficult because many residents don’t have an understanding of the ordinances.

“It’s a challenge, and it’s a challenge particularly in Southeast,” he said. “I will admit that.”

In order to improve the enforcement system, Fournier said the city is researching other cities, like Boulder, Colo., to see how they deal with over-occupancy, a more common violation.

Boulder requires tenants to sign a disclosure statement that states they understand how many people can legally live in a unit when they move.

Gordon said he hopes to use the same system in Minneapolis.

“If we do have the disclosure statement ahead of time, that might help,” he said. “Also, we want to have a clearer posting about how many people can legally live in a unit.”

He said a unit’s occupancy limit is in the rental agreement, but many times it’s difficult to understand.

“We might be able to improve that,” Gordon said.

Since the city’s system is complaint-driven, Southeast Como resident and University urban development senior Michelle Ward said students don’t know the ordinances or what they say.

“A lot of students don’t even know about it, and they’re not even aware that they’re in violation of something that they could get fined for,” she said.

Ward said the ordinances are difficult to locate in the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances.

Because the city will start to enforce the pre-existing ordinance, Ward said it would only be fair to notify residents of the ordinances.