Only a year out of college, Alan Kwong became a landlord and eventually acquired 15 rental properties on the North Side of Minneapolis. Yet his business has struggled in recent years, and now Kwong has become the latest target of the city's crackdown on negligent landlords.
Kwong has lost two of his rental licenses already, and on Monday, a City Council committee will vote on a recommendation to revoke the rest of them. If the measure is approved by the full council, 45 tenants could be forced to find somewhere else to live in a rental market already shrunken by the devastating May 22 tornado.
"This would displace a large number of good tenants, lead to many vacancies and foreclosures, which have been shown to lead to crime and vandalism, and it might be resold to another investor who doesn't have my experience in north Minneapolis," said Kwong, 28, who lives on the North Side. "It's a complicated thing to be a landlord."
The fate of tenants isn't deterring city leaders, who say Kwong had plenty of chances to clean up his act.
"We are trying to make sure people have safe, clean places to live in, so we have been fairly aggressive in going after landlords who don't take care of their property," said City Council President Barb Johnson.
On the road to revocation
Kwong's first rental license, at 3123 James Av. N., was revoked last year because the property was being used as a halfway house, with nine unrelated individuals living together. Kwong had also failed to fix the furnace until one of the space heaters he handed out caused a fire. Kwong said he didn't appeal the revocation because he knew it would be going into foreclosure and didn't want to pay the $300 fee.
He lost his second rental license after he failed to repair a house at 4543 James Av. N., which had been boarded up after a fire. This property too was headed for foreclosure, Kwong said.
Kwong said he knew would lose his rental license for 4543 James, but didn't realize that it would jeopardize all of his rental licenses. But under city ordinance, landlords are automatically banned from the rental business for five years if at least two of their licenses are canceled or revoked.
Eric Kimble, 33, a business management student at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, moved into the second floor of one of Kwong's properties last year with two of his kids and was upset that he had paid Kwong $600 in rent last week, which he could have used toward finding a new place.
"He hasn't been by here since the tornado. The grass needs to be mowed, and there's pot growing in the front yard," Kimble said as he pointed to several cannabis plants that had reached up to 10 inches in height.
Kimble's roof was covered by a large, blue tarp last week, and he said pieces have been falling off the roof since the May 22 tornado. Kwong said he has been getting building permits for repairs on tornado-damaged homes. Kwong said he did visit the property after the tornado hit and was not contacted by Kimble about the pot or other issues. The roof was repaired Thursday, and the cannabis plants have since been removed.
Another tenant of a Kwong-owned property, Amber Johnson, 27, worried about how the council's action would affect her and her three children.
"I'm going to try to look for a place, but I don't have money to move right now," she said. "I don't really know where I would go; I'd probably be homeless."
Tasnim Shamma • 612-673-7603 Twitter: @TasnimS