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Continued: Tight Mpls. housing market adds to squeeze on low-income renters

  • Article by: EMMA NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 3, 2014 - 6:08 AM

“Sometimes the heat is not working,” said Jose Cruz Guzman, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his mother. “When we call to complain, they send someone, but nothing happens.”

Guadalupe Sanchez Martinez, who has lived in the building for about two years, shares a two-bedroom unit with her husband and two young daughters.

She said her rent is nearing $1,000 a month. Coupled with persistent maintenance problems, the hike is making it tough to stay. “It’s too much,” she said in Spanish.

Mike Vraa, managing attorney at the tenant advocacy organization HOME Line, said rent increases are rampant across the city. In the last decade or so, he said, he has seen more landlords start charging separately for utilities.

Tenants who call HOME Line often ask if rent increases are legal, he said, and the answer is usually yes. “There’s no rent control,” he said. “A landlord can charge whatever they think the market can bear.”

Reporting is a challenge

Some residents say it’s an uphill battle just to report a problem, let alone get it fixed.

And for tenants like Sanchez Martinez, who speaks little English, there’s an additional hurdle.

The city advises renters with complaints to call Minneapolis’ 311 hot line and it requires landlords to post multilingual city notices in common areas. No such signs were posted at 3141 22nd Av. S.

Frenz said that he posts the signs but that they often get taken down. Though he’s willing to comply with city regulations, he said, he doesn’t like the idea of tenants being encouraged to call the city instead of the management company. “The whole concept of what it says is something that irritates me,” he said.

Tenants say that when they do call the management company, they don’t get much of a response.

During her family’s time in the building, Sanchez Martinez said, they’ve called with issues ranging from broken bathroom floor tiles to windows that won’t open. Last summer, bedbugs in her daughters’ rooms forced the whole family to sleep in one bed.

She and her husband have resorted to fixing problems themselves: they threw out bug-infested furniture, they painted their bathroom. “It’s very difficult to live like this,” she said in Spanish.

Sanchez Martinez said her family is looking for a new place to live. Yancey, too, is on her way out. But like many other tenants, they’re faced with limited options.

Asked where she would go if she decides to move, Healy shrugged and said: “My car.”

 

Emma Nelson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

 

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