Rental units under the microscope

Inspectors randomly selected units to look for code breachesand compliance.

by Neil Munshi

Dull pink insulation burst from behind an exposed black pipe, a rotten wooden porch sat slouched in the snow and Grant Wilson noted it all on his clipboard.

Wilson, district supervisor for Housing Inspection Services, heads a team of nine inspectors dedicated to completing a five-year inspections sweep in the north half of Minneapolis, which includes the area surrounding the University.

Wilson said another nine-person team is covering the southern half of the city.

As part of the new sweep, which began at the start of this year, Minneapolis Regulatory Services has teamed up with the fire department to inspect the city’s 68,000 rental units in 16,700 rental properties, officials said.

The extensive inspections, inspired by the sweeps of the University area in the aftermath of a house fire that killed three students in September 2003, will cover rental licensing, livability and safety issues, and code compliance, officials said.

JoAnn Velde, the city’s deputy director of housing inspections, said her department had completed 460 inspections in January and is currently 100 buildings ahead of schedule.

She said she is confident about the new initiative and notes the progress made in other cities.

In cities across the country, doing systematic inspections in which owners know officials will be out on a regular basis creates fewer violations and more educated owners, she said.

Wilson said that while firefighters cover rental buildings of four or more units, his team will tackle those of one to three units.

Inspectors are working on approximately 40 buildings in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood area, with hundreds more to go, he said.

“I think the tenants over there are going to see improved conditions, because Ö we’re going to issue orders on those (buildings), and those properties will be fixed up. And the next people who live there are going to have a nicer place to live,” Wilson said.

Anthropology and French student Nikki Schaan said she called in a complaint because her landlord was taking months on a remodeling job he said would take a week. Schaan also said her water had been abruptly turned off several times during the last few months.

Wilson said inspectors target randomly selected rental units for licensing and then conduct thorough inspections for code violations and compliance.

Augsburg College student Harin Kim said she called in a complaint because her house was in terrible shape and her landlord was slow to fix it up.

“I was just so fed up, so I was calling all day,” she said.

Wilson said the biggest problem with Kim’s house was overoccupancy – four tenants in a house designated for three.

Wilson said that since 2004, his department has been issuing administrative citations to landlords who repeatedly don’t fix code violations. The citations carry a $200 fine that doubles for subsequent similar violations, he said.

There were 450 first offenders last year, 71 second offenders and 18 third offenders, he said.

“It means most of the people are starting to get it,” he said.