Problems abound for student renters in old homes around campus

A city inspection found 43 violations in a student-occupied duplex.

Neal Fredrickson examines a broken screen Monday in his Marcy Holmes apartment.  Fredrickson feels the property owner has been slow in responding to his maintenance requests.

Mark Vancleave

Neal Fredrickson examines a broken screen Monday in his Marcy Holmes apartment. Fredrickson feels the property owner has been slow in responding to his maintenance requests.

Anissa Stocks

Neal Fredrickson and his two roommates were shocked with what they found in their new Marcy-Holmes duplex. The building had broken windows and an opening on the exterior siding.

The three University of Minnesota students soon found that the problems in the housed amounted to 43 city code violations, according to a city inspection. But neither the city nor the landlord was surprised by the complaint.

The building is one of many rapidly aging properties Tim Harmsen owns as part of Dinkytown Rentals.

âÄúOur basement was a horror movie set âĦ dirt and dust everywhere, empty alcohol bottles and old furniture,.âÄù Fredrickson said.

Older houses are more likely to have code violations, said JoAnn Velde, housing manager for the Minneapolis inspections department. ItâÄôs a problem often encountered in the University-area neighborhoods.

âÄúA lot of these houses are quickly wearing out, so youâÄôre going to find some [violations]. But itâÄôs difficult to get the âÄòOKâÄô to replace them with new buildings,âÄù Harmsen said.

He said he believes many of the houses near the University need to be replaced, but that area landlordsâÄô past attempts to change housing have been met with opposition from the city and from neighborhood associations.

Harmsen said he wasnâÄôt aware of the code violations at FredricksonâÄôs property until after he received a letter of intent from the city.

When problems are reported, inspectors take note of them and send the owner a letter. The owner typically has about a month to fix them.

Fredrickson said Dinkytown Rentals immediately addressed the property issues, fixing damages in a timely, efficient manner.

In 2006, the propertyâÄôs license was approved during a full inspection.

Since 2002, the inspections department has seen 16 service requests at the property. Most were maintenance-related, Velde said.

Harmsen isnâÄôt the first property owner cited for code violations. City inspectors frequently visit the University neighborhoods to keep tabs on rental properties.

Property owners have been hit with violations for years, some for over-occupancy, others for maintenance issues or safety concerns, Velde said.

Since a fire in Dinkytown killed three University students eight years ago, VeldeâÄôs department has increased its presence in the area, going door-to-door during the moving cycle with information for tenants.

But problems often arise when students arenâÄôt aware of their rights, she said.

 Barbara Boysen, a legal assistant at the University Student Legal Service, said having written records of concerns is critical in many cases.

About 25 percent of USLS workload deals with housing issues, including problems with damage deposit returns and lease agreement issues.

âÄúWeâÄôve seen it all,âÄù Boysen said.