The suit filed by Jim Corriveau stems from a sewer malfunction at one of his buildings. But that's just part of the story.
A cash-strapped landlord is suing the city of Anoka in federal court in a fracas stemming from a stinky sewer malfunction at one of his apartment buildings that made headlines last Christmas.
And while the mess at the Golfview Apartments, a 36-unit building at 500 Greenhaven Road in Anoka, was eventually cleaned up, the relationship between the building's owner and the city has clearly deteriorated.
Jim Corriveau, 45, of Andover, claims in a lawsuit filed last week that the city is ruining his commercial property business, which once included 25 buildings, mostly apartment buildings. He's now down to eight, his lawyer said. The city's overly aggressive response to the sewer backup caused tenants to flee, he said, and has made it difficult to meet mortgage payments on his properties.
Corriveau has sued the city for fraud, harassment and defamation and filed for a restraining order to prevent the city from revoking his rental license and to stall a foreclosure until the matter is resolved.
Anoka City Attorney Scott Baumgartner called the lawsuit merely "allegations."
The city on Monday suspended the rental license at the Golfview for six months because Corriveau is not in compliance with state building codes requiring him to have a backup water pump. The license can be reinstated if a licensed plumber installs one by the end of October. The suspension restricts Corriveau from accepting new tenants but doesn't affect existing tenants, Baumgartner said. Corriveau can reapply for the license.
The Golfview, which accepts Section 8 vouchers for low-income housing, is now in foreclosure for the second time in two years. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank is seeking a receiver to manage and repair it, according to documents in a separate court action.
Corriveau said he's been in the city's cross hairs since 2001 when he evicted the son of Anoka City Council Member Mark Freeburg. Corriveau's lawsuit details an ongoing feud with Freeburg that worsened a few years ago when Corriveau publicly supported Freeburg's rival for mayor.
Then Corriveau had trouble fixing Golfview's sewer system. For most of last December, intermittent water service had residents showering at the homes of friends and bringing home water to use to flush toilets. Last Christmas the building flooded and the city intervened, with city crews pumping out the backed-up water.
Corriveau's lawsuit claims he worked diligently all month to remedy Golfview's plumbing problems, but the city jumped in, breaking down doors and ripping out carpet without permits, installing a defective water pump and scaring tenants with notices of utilities being shut off.
According to the lawsuit, Freeburg allegedly alerted the press to the situation and showed up as city officials posted condemnation notices on the apartment building. After Corriveau asked them to leave, the lawsuit claims Freeburg became belligerent and "lunged" at Corriveau's truck, saying, "Come on. I'll take you right now," and "You're going down."
The city manager had to restrain him, the lawsuit said.
Freeburg told a 5 Eyewitness News crew the building's sewer problem was "irresponsibility" and "dereliction of your duty."
In his statement, Corriveau said he's invested "significant time and money" into his properties and "worked hard to provide affordable housing" to residents of Anoka. Anoka has abused its power, he said, and shouldn't get away with it.
About 25 of the Golfview's 36 units are now rented, and Christopher Parrington, Corriveau's lawyer, said he's unaware of any current plumbing problems.
Eric Hauge, an organizer for a statewide tenant advocacy group called Homeline in Bloomington, said utilities have threatened to shut off service at the Golfview several time since the sewer backup because Corriveau hasn't paid bills. Now CenterPoint Energy is turning of the building's gas, he said. CenterPoint wouldn't comment.
"It's kind of been an ongoing disaster out there," Hauge said.
Former Golfview resident Kathy Barron agreed. Barron said she lived at the Golfview with her elderly mother and two children for 15 years. The building had continual maintenance problems, from broken front doors to crumbling ceilings, she said. The sewer fiasco, during which she lugged home gallons of water from work so she could flush the toilet, was the last straw. She moved out in March.
"What person puts people through that kind of horror?" Barron said.
"The city saved us," she said. "If anything, they should be getting a medal, not getting sued."
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683