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UMN students give testimonies against Identity Dinkytown at Wednesday Senate hearing

Students testified against the apartment complex and said they should be able to get out of their leases.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein
Construction on a new apartment building in Dinkytown on Thursday June 29, 2023.

University of Minnesota student and expert testimonies were heard at the Minnesota Senate regarding the delayed move-in date of the Identity Dinkytown apartment complex on Wednesday.

The Senate Committees on Higher Education and Housing and Homelessness Prevention sat for the two-hour-long hearing to discuss issues tenants at Identity have faced. 

“I hope this hearing does two things,” Siya Sakhardande, the Undergraduate Student Government’s (USG) state coordinator for government and legislative affairs, told the committees during the hearing, “that it highlights exactly what the student experience has been, and I hope it also puts pressure on the landlord to make what’s right.”

Identity notified tenants in an email sent on Aug. 2 they would not be able to move in on the originally scheduled move-in date of Aug. 27. This news came one day after tenants were required to pay one month’s rent on Aug. 1. Parents and students are suing the apartment complex for not having space for tenants by the student of school.

“We cannot comment on any pending litigation. We understand that the delay is disappointing and inconvenient for students,” a CA Management spokesperson working with Identity said in a statement. “We are focused on getting doors opened and students moved in as quickly as possible and providing students with regular updates until then.”

Tenants were given two options: receive a gift card for $150 each day and find their own housing, or have Identity provide them alternative housing and receive an $80 gift card every day. 

Identity sent an email on Sept. 5 to its tenants with new move-in dates. Floors four, five and six have an anticipated move-in date of Sept. 29. Floors one, two and three are anticipated to move in late October.

Emalyn Goodart is a third-year student at the University who testified at the hearing. Originally, she signed with Identity at the end of March 2023 because it was the best price for her. Goodart opted for the second option Identity provided, a hotel room and an $80 gift card per day, because she is an out of state student. Goodart said she was later notified in an email from Identity that she was released from the lease because the building manager never signed it due to a housing accommodation at that time.

“I got out on a technicality and if not for that, I would still be in a lease with Identity today,” Goodart said. “I’m under the impression my lease was never finished by Identity and they sought to keep me in it anyway.” 

Wajd Suliman, a third-year student at the University who testified at the hearing, explained she signed an early lease because she wanted to be in the heart of Dinkytown. As a first generation college student, Suliman said she is personally paying for her tuition, rent, gas and any personal expenses. 

“I knew it would cost a lot of money,” Suliman said of rent costs at Identity. “I believed that my hard work would pay off since I would have somewhere comfortable and brand new.”

Suliman said she opted for the first option provided by Identity and decided to commute from her home 15 minutes away from campus as she cannot afford to sign an additional lease near campus. 

“A big part of the college experience is enjoying your time on campus and not being on campus makes me feel like I’m missing out on a big part of my life and living at home has been extremely lonely,” Suliman said. 

Tianna Helgeson, a third-year student at the University, signed a lease at Identity in Oct. 2022, according to a letter she wrote to the committees. Over the summer she said she lived on campus and saw around mid-July the building looked nowhere near complete. 

“I started to get concerned and went into the leasing office to ask about building progress and potential accommodations,” Helgeson wrote. “The leasing office promised the building would be completed.” 

Helgeson said a friend of hers, who is also a tenant at Identity, went to the leasing office on Aug. 1 when rent was due, and the leasing office told her the building would be ready for move-in on the expected date. Both Helgeson and her friend found out less than a day after paying that the building would not be completed.

Helgeson added she tried to refute the charges to her bank, but failed. When she asked Identity to refund her rent, they told her it would go towards the month she moved in. Identity would not return the rent nor allow her to terminate the lease agreement, according to Helgeson. 

Helgeson said she lives at her friends’ houses during the week, while she drives home and packs her suitcase on weekends.

“There should be legal ramifications and accountability for landlords that bait-and-switch their tenants,” Helgeson wrote. “If an apartment complex promises to be completed by move-in, especially in a college town, it is unacceptable to not be done on time.” 

Aria Mahan-Cleveland is a second-year transfer student who also testified at the hearing. 

“I drive an hour each day to and from school each day if I’m lucky with traffic and have to pay for extra gas and parking,” Mahan-Cleveland said. “This has had an additional layer of stress and uncertainty in my life.”

USG is focusing efforts to assist students with their problems caused by Identity. USG sent a press release in support of the Identity tenants, as well as had a member testify at the hearing. 

“Students should not bear the burdens of a situation that is beyond their control,” Katie Smithberg, the local government affairs coordinator for USG, said in their Aug. 16 press release. “Tenants deserve to have a voice in how Identity accommodates them for the anticipated difficulties they will face.”

Sakhardande encouraged University students who are Identity tenants to reach out to her. 

“I’d love to hear their story and see what we can do in the future or if there is any way that we can support them or connect them with another organization,” Sakhardande said. 

In their press release, USG proposed several solutions including allowing lease termination, ensuring quality housing with proximity to campus and refunding August rent.

“I urge you to pass legislation that would keep anything like this from happening in the state of Minnesota from ever happening again,” Goodart said. “Students deserve to have their needs met by the landlord when something like this happens and those needs include the option to be let out of the lease.”

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