Suburbs crack down on problem landlords, homeowners

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 27, 2014 - 6:04 AM

As they start to show their age, Roseville and Burnsville are ramping up efforts to improve rundown properties and prevent problems in the first place.

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For its inspection program, Burnsville does drive-by checks every three years of all properties, including businesses and single-family homes like this fire-damaged one.

Photo: Photos by DAVID JOLES • djoles@startribune.com,

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The more than 4,000 apartments in Roseville have never faced regular municipal inspections, but that’s about to change as the suburb responds to some troubling signs.

Some apartment buildings are so rundown that school social workers making home visits called the city to complain. Police also saw a surge in calls to a few complexes, with officers reporting bedbugs, broken-down units, uncooperative tenants and “flophouse” conditions.

“I think the good citizens of Roseville aren’t aware of these things occurring. It’s happening more and more,” police Lt. Lorne Rosand said.

Now the city of 34,000 known for its shopping and established, safe neighborhoods will be licensing and inspecting all complexes with five or more units. The idea is to take a “proactive” approach — to prevent problems in addition to reacting to them.

To the south, Burnsville has been ramping up its own inspection programs as it sees signs of wear and tear. The two cities, along with other suburbs starting to show their age, are moving to keep up curb appeal, to stay fresh and avert decay.

“You have to think long term. It has to be more than guns and hoses,” said Burnsville’s code enforcement manager, Christopher Forslund, referring to police and fire services most often associated with city government. “You have to maintain your standard of living, too.”

In Roseville and Burnsville, the great majority of residents support the cleanup programs, officials say.

Roseville had considered adding rental regulations for nearly a decade. But leaders didn’t see a pressing need until now. “We knew the multifamily apartments in Roseville were going to be an issue because of their age. Most were built in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. It was on our radar screen,” Mayor Dan Roe said.

Calls from the school district and the police’s concerns pushed the City Council to act. “That’s when we decided we need to take some action and be more proactive on our multifamily units,” Roe said.

The rental inspections, with a “neighborhood enhancement program,” will save the city money in the long run by “solving problems … before we have a crisis,” he said. “Nothing is inexpensive when you are dealing with it in crisis mode.”

Rosand said residents would be surprised at some of the rental conditions just blocks from their homes. A few apartment complexes, once well-maintained, have turned over ownership and tenants.

“We are finding the owners aren’t putting money back into the property when things break down and fall apart. It’s become a blight in the community and an eyesore,” he said.

At some complexes, police officers making calls ask people to meet them outside to avoid getting bedbugs on their uniforms, Rosand said.

At one complex, the owners repeatedly refused requests to repair a dilapidated garage that was later the site of a sexual assault, he said.

Under the new licensing and inspection program, apartments will be checked to make sure they’re up to code. The program rewards quality landlords: Rental property in excellent condition will be inspected every three years, properties with problems more frequently. For the most problematic: “Every six months we will be in your property,” said Jeanne Kelsey, acting head of the Roseville Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

“We tried to develop it as more of an incentive program than a punishment program,” Roe said.

Marty McDonough, director of municipal affairs for the Minnesota Multifamily Housing Association, said tiered inspection programs that reward good landlords have proved successful in other cities. It puts pressure on the minority of problem landlords.

McDonough advises his members to work with their cities. “We want our landlords to understand they have to have a good relationship with the city to be successful businesspeople. The good ones get that,” he said.

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