Policy allows records online

A University Web site will exclude landlords who have too many violations.

Neil Munshi

Since implementing a new policy in August, campus housing officials are keeping a closer watch on who is allowed to list properties on their off-campus housing Web site.

The new policy bans landlords from posting their homes on the Web site if city inspectors have found violations in their properties on more than three occasions.

Officials said the policy is one way the University can take responsibility for housing information it provide to students.

“We made the new policy, but it didn’t affect a lot of people,” said Mannix Clark, an associate department director for Housing and Residential Life. “Very few landlords were actually removed from the listing.”

Clark said he was unclear on how many landlords have been banned from the Web site listings so far.

Work on the policy started in spring 2003 but gained momentum after a house fire killed three University students in September of that year, officials said.

Kendre Turonie, coordinator for student and community relations for the Office of Student Affairs, said the fire renewed the University and surrounding neighborhood groups’ interest in how students choose housing. The policy helps the University ensure students live in safe environments, she said.

“To me, it’s a pretty basic concept that we want our students to be in safe housing,” Turonie said.

Owners react

Elmwood Properties owner Craig Janssen manages several apartment buildings in southeast Minneapolis where University students live.

He said he is somewhat wary of the policy change but understands the University’s policy after the deadly 2003 house fire.

“A certain percentage of the property managers need tougher policing,” Janssen said. “But while there are certainly many valid complaints filed by residents, a certain percentage are completely groundless.”

Janssen said landlords are sometimes unjustly targeted by overstressed students.

“We have seen that many times students are under a lot of pressure from their total burden of studies, work and personal problems, and they need someone to vent their frustration on and sometimes the most convenient object of their frustration is the property manager,” he said.

Janssen said that housing problems can occur because many area houses are old and worn out. It would help if the community or city encouraged more new housing near the University, he said.

“Nothing has changed since I went here or since Bob Dylan left,” he said.

Joe Stokes, a Marcy-Holmes neighborhood landlord, said he pushed hard for the stricter off-campus listing policy.

“If a person doesn’t keep their property up, they don’t deserve to have that listing up there,” Stokes said. “You’ve got to be right in dealing with people, and I think too often students have been taken advantage of in a wrong way.”

Helping renters

Clark said the idea for changing the house listing policy has been considered for years.

The policy was carefully written with input from several University departments, Clark said.

“We were looking at life, safety, fire, physical-safety type of things – not minor stuff like painting or broken garage doors,” Clark said.

With the old listing procedure, landlords signed contracts with the University stating that the property owner had not made any false statements in its listing.

Turonie said the policy added new criteria to listing contracts.

According to the contract, the housing department can refuse listing or remove all of the landlord’s listings if he or she has more than three unresolved tenant complaints filed with the University Student Legal

Service.

Bill Dane, an attorney with the service, said his department provides the housing department with raw data on the kinds of problems landlords are having.

He said minor complaints that can be easily resolved will not affect a landlord’s standing with the University.

Campus officials track all litigation cases, but an owner’s standing with the University depends on the outcome of the case.

Kim Araya, an assistant department director of Housing and Residential Life, said the policy was not designed to punish landlords.

“We don’t do any policing -that’s not our job,” she said. “We encourage students to do their homework on anyone they rent from.”

Turonie agreed and said the policy change is just one step to help renters choose a landlord.

“Obviously, it’s up to each and every student when they’re searching for housing to do some background checks on their landlords,” Turonie said.

“It’s really easy for students to take the property they’re looking at, type the address in the property information section of the city’s Web site and see if the unit has been visited by inspections,” he said.