The residence at 3950 Aldrich Av. N. was capped with what's become a calling card of the tornado that ripped through north Minneapolis last month.

A broad blue tarp covered a gaping hole in the roof of the two-story house. It lay next to green sheeting wrapped around a crumbling chimney. Both were the most obvious reasons why city inspectors had deemed the rental house unlivable.

On Monday, inspectors followed up to make sure no one was trying to do otherwise. After a quick knock on the front and back doors and a peek in the window, they were satisfied. The house was empty.

The visit was part of more thorough safety inspections aimed at the 1,800 rental properties in the area damaged by the May 22 tornado, which left two people dead, many others displaced and caused damage estimated at $166 million. The goal is simple, officials say: to ensure that those affected by the storm have safe housing.

As cleanup efforts continue, officials with the city's Department of Regulatory Services are starting this week with the 125 properties deemed uninhabitable because of the major damage. Of those, 55 are rental properties. That's where inspection teams headed first.

The inspections will be accomplished in phases, starting with rental homes most in need of repair and ending with those homes that have no obvious damage, said Henry Reimer, assistant director of regulatory services for the city of Minneapolis. Beginning this week, officials are contacting all owners of damaged rental properties to schedule inspections.

Although many rental property owners have already acted to clean up their properties, there's still work to be done, and officials intend to be patient. They'll issue notices for repair with reasonable due dates to get properties up to code. If that doesn't happen, they plan to grant reasonable extension requests.

Inspectors will also visit owner-occupied homes and let home owners know what repairs and cleanup are necessary.

In the first phase, inspection of uninhabitable homes, property inspectors first make sure no one is living in such properties. If someone is inside, they'll check to make sure damages have been repaired and the house is back up to code. If that hasn't happened, the city has a team of six social workers to see that renters have safe housing options.

Reimer said officials expect some families to be displaced until repairs can be made.

Another goal is to ensure that property owners in over their heads from too much damage or too little insurance don't simply walk away. While most landlords are responsible, Reimer said, a few aren't.

The city hopes to finish the process by the end of August.

Once inspections of uninhabitable housing are finished, city officials will move on to properties with minor damage. After that, each rental property in the affected zone will be looked at, even those with no major damage. The city is shooting for a goal of debris removed by June 28; they're trying to coordinate with North Side cleanup efforts to get help for those landlords.

Renters can call 311 if their home is not getting necessary repairs or if they have safety concerns.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921