Como takes on problem properties

The neighborhood association is cracking down on absentee landlords.

by Alex Bitter

A new initiative by the Southeast Como Improvement Association to identify absentee landlords in the neighborhood is yielding results, but residents and community leaders say the issue is still prevalent.

SECIA members said they hope their efforts will make landlords more accountable to both the community and the city.

Katie Fournier, chair of the SECIA Livability Committee, said she and others on the team began using resident complaints and property sale records published in local newspapers to identify houses that may lack proper rental licenses. The committee then checked the properties against Hennepin County records to determine whether the landlords had the correct licenses to rent it, she said.

Fournier said they found that some landlords listed their own private residences as rental properties or incorrectly classified properties to pay lower taxes and avoid inspections.

“It denies income to the city, and it annoys people to no end to see somebody trying to evade the city’s ordinances,” she said.

The committee sent information for six suspected unlicensed properties to the city’s housing inspection department earlier this year, Fournier said. Two of the properties lacked proper rental licenses and faced action from the city, she said.

Jill Ruzicka, SECIA’s community liaison and Livability Committee member, said she began checking properties against county records in March.

From an initial list of 46 Como properties sold since then, she said, about 10 classifications didn’t acknowledge the properties’ observed use as rentals.

For example, one owner listed a property as his residence, but the committee verified that he actually lived in Massachusetts, Ruzicka said.

Classification problems are widespread, she said, and leave it to the city to pick up the bill for code inspections.

“It costs us all money if they don’t get a rental license and their taxes are lower,” she said.

Ruzicka said properties with landlords who evade city inspections can become rundown.

“We worry about students living in dangerous situations and over-occupancy,” she said.

SECIA Board Member Natalie Reciputi said problem properties remain a top concern for residents.

The problem has come up in focus groups for the Como Blueprint, the neighborhood’s small-area plan, and in resident questionnaire responses, she said.

“Almost universally, people said badly managed rental properties [needed to be dealt with],” Reciputi said.

She said the Blueprint, a draft of which will be publicly presented in early 2014, will likely include a section on residents’ concerns about absentee landlords.

SECIA members originally planned to discuss the plan at a meeting Wednesday, but they pushed the item to the new year in order to deal with the area’s trichloroethylene, or TCE, vapor problem.

Another recommendation for the Blueprint includes a long-term emphasis on mixed-use housing developments, which Reciputi said may prove easier to manage than individual houses.

She said the committee is sending letters to landlords and tenants — including those associated with unlicensed properties — to inform residents of city housing codes.

Fournier said the committee plans to take the problem a few properties at a time.

“We are now talking about doing another round of six addresses,” she said.