Facing inspections, Eischens is confident

Molly Moker

A city-led sweep of rental units in southeast Minneapolis will begin shortly, and officials said the focus will not be exclusively on student housing.

John Bergquist, director of operations and regulatory services, said all houses will be checked for major health and safety issues, along with over-occupancy.

The inspections will be conducted by housing inspection staff and the Minneapolis Fire Department, taking two to three weeks to inspect all rental units in the area, Bergquist said.

Although the upcoming inspections are too late to prevent the fatal fire at 827 15th Ave. S.E., Bergquist said they will give inspectors a chance to look into violations on other properties and firefighters an opportunity to learn the inspection process. The fire department will take over part of the housing inspection program in April.

Jim Eischens, owner of 827 15th Ave. S.E., said he will be more cautious with his other properties. He said his company already hand-delivered letters telling tenants to reconnect their smoke detectors. He also spent two days inspecting his properties for other violations.

Bergquist said inspectors will look at occupancy loads during the sweep. When over-occupancy is found, landlords will receive citations and are responsible for evicting extra occupants.

“A lot of the time, the landlords are not aware of the number of people that are living in their houses,” Bergquist said.

Eischens said over-occupancy is not an issue with his tenants.

“We try to abide by the rules as best we can,” Eischens said. “If there’s over-occupancy, it’s not to my knowledge.”

Bergquist said student tenants have nothing to fear during these inspections. When violations are found, the inspectors will issue the landlords citations and it will be up to landlords to fix problems.

“We want to give landlords the opportunity to take care of the violations, but if they are not taken care of in a timely manner, we won’t think twice about shutting down a property,” Bergquist said.

Inspectors will take more stringent measures if major fire violations, such as missing smoke detectors or improperly installed water heaters, are found, Bergquist said.

“The fire marshals do have the authority to close down businesses if there are serious violations,” he said. “But we don’t think we’ll be finding anything that serious.”

If inspectors find disconnected smoke alarms, landlords will be asked to make immediate repairs, Bergquist said.

“We realize tenants do disconnect their smoke alarms for various reasons, but (smoke alarms) are crucial in fire prevention,” Bergquist said. “It just seems strange that the (tenants at 827) didn’t get out of there if their smoke alarms were going off.”

Eischens said he believes his properties are up to standard and openly invites fire marshals to investigate them.

He said most violations filed against him were minor and should be expected because many of his tenants are students.

“There are houses that get really trashed by students,” Eischens said. “That’s why students don’t make great tenants.”

University officials said they are working to implement a system that would revoke the privileges of landlords with excessive complaints or code violations.

“If landlords are found to be cited frequently, or if they’re a frequent cause of student complaints, I frankly don’t think they should be listed,” Bruininks said Tuesday.

Eischens said if he is removed from the University’s off-campus housing list due to his record of complaints and violations, he will be upset.

“Just because I take legal action to resolve issues shouldn’t make me not be on the listing,” Eischens said. “Other landlords just let problems go. But it’s part of my business. I like to settle things. I pursue. Very few pursue me.”

Eischens said using the number of complaints filed by students through the University Legal Services against him would be unfair.

“Who’s going to be the most vocal against me? The people who couldn’t reach a settlement, and now they’re angry,” Eischens said. “They’re the ones complaining at legal services, not my tenants that don’t have problems.”

Although having student tenants can be difficult, Eischens said there are some exceptions.

“If this tragedy would not have happened, (then tenants at 827) would have been ideal tenants,” he said.