Troubles at several metro-area apartment complexes put the spotlight on two North Oaks brothers with a history of run-ins with officials over safety and health violations at their properties.
Children played at the Center Pointe apartment complex in Brooklyn Center. City officials say Hyder and Asgher Jaweed of North Oaks are among the worst landlords because their large apartment complexes have fallen into disrepair, including this broken playground equipment and overflowing garbage areas.
Over the past 18 months, the problems in Mechelle Owens' Brooklyn Center apartment grew from a few cockroaches scurrying across her kitchen to a leaking living room ceiling that grew brown, puffy mold. Then her bathroom ceiling almost collapsed and an 8-foot mirrored closet door fell on her 4-year-old son. ¶ She sent letters to her building's managers, pleading with them to fix the problems, but the maintenance was never done. ¶ "I can't live here," she said, as she moved out of her apartment this spring. "This is disgusting."
Hundreds of housing code violations over the past few years at the troubled 252-unit Center Pointe apartment complex that Owens once called home are drawing attention to landlords Hyder Jaweed, 31, and Asgher Ali, 27, also known as Asgher Jaweed.
The brothers from the private community of North Oaks are tied, through several business entities, to at least nine apartment properties in Columbia Heights, Fridley and other cities.
• In Rochester, housing officials have considered condemning one property because of cockroach infestations, fire code violations and other safety concerns. The property is now facing foreclosure.
• Two Robbinsdale properties had their rental licenses revoked after the Jaweeds took control.
• Brooklyn Center officials filed misdemeanor criminal charges last summer against the brothers over problems at Center Pointe. The charges were later dropped in a settlement with the city.
Robbinsdale City Council Member William Blonigan, a 27-year council veteran, said, "No Robbinsdale landlord has managed to jump out with so many problems so quickly before."
Hyder Jaweed and Asgher Ali did not respond to numerous requests for an interview, but released a statement earlier this month.
"We work to ensure that all properties comply with every applicable regulation," the statement said. "When violations are reported or discovered, our property managers are instructed to rectify the situation promptly."
Tenants end up being victims
Across the metro, city officials and tenants said it is hard to resolve problems at the apartments because each complex is owned by a separate company and the management changes frequently. Tenant advocacy organizations say there is little oversight from federal and state agencies, so landlords like the Jaweeds face few consequences.
At a 2004 Robbinsdale City Council meeting, a group of tenants pleaded with city leaders to intervene at the Robinwood apartments. One tenant, Gregory Williams, told the council about a leak in his bathroom ceiling that would shower down urine and feces every time the upstairs toilet was flushed.
"We would have to close the bathroom door and put a towel under the door to keep the smell from coming out into our apartment," he said.
After listening to Williams and other tenants, council members were outraged.
"You, sir, should be ashamed of yourself," said Council Member Bob Zagaros, pointing at Hyder Jaweed in the audience.
At the meeting, Jaweed said the building management would have a system for residents to file complaints about repair issues. After facing foreclosure this year, the title to Robinwood was transferred to Anchor Bank.
This spring, Robbinsdale officials warned the Jaweeds about faulty gas lines at another property, Coachlite, emphasizing, "the serious nature of the potential gas line failure," according to the March 18 Robbinsdale City Council minutes.
Asgher Ali told the City Council on April 1 that he was working to make repairs on gas lines in the building.
Who is responsible?
Over the past three years, Brooklyn Center inspectors have recorded more than 700 housing code violations at the Center Pointe apartment complex. The property also made up about 15 percent of the city's police calls to apartment buildings in 2007.
DuSean Jackson, a Center Pointe tenant, said he doesn't let his daughter play in the playground because of the broken equipment. Center Pointe "has potential to be a good place to live," he said. "It still can be, if somebody came in and cleaned it up."
Last year, the city tried to revoke the rental license. The Jaweeds responded by suing the city.
In the suit, the Jaweeds alleged that Brooklyn Center officials had "coerced, intimidated, threatened, and interfered with [the Jaweeds] because of the Jaweeds' national origin."
This January, the brothers and the city reached a legal settlement that required extensive repairs at Center Pointe, but city officials said about a week ago that there were still code violations. A spokesperson for CenterPoint Energy, which is not associated with the Center Pointe complex, said Friday that the utility company referred the building's account to its legal department because of nonpayment.
The Jaweeds' statement said they have installed new doors and fixtures at Center Pointe and are working on constructing a security fence.
The problems at the complex have also attracted the attention of state and federal agencies, because the property receives federal tax credits. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, which monitors the property, said Center Pointe's repair problems have kept it out of compliance with rules on tax credits. The IRS would not comment on whether the noncompliance issues have prompted audits of the company that owns Center Pointe.
"Center Pointe has undergone more consistent scrutiny than any other project ... that receives tax credits in Minnesota," said Bob Odman, assistant commissioner of multi-family housing for MHFA.
Cities stepping up pressure
Cities often provide the only monitoring of rental properties, so some officials are trying to increase consequences for landlords who don't comply with housing laws. In Columbia Heights, officials changed regulations last fall so a landlord whose property loses its license twice is banned from operating rental property in the city for five years.
Peters Place, a 17-unit building in Columbia Heights, has had its license revoked more than three times since the Jaweeds took over in 2004 but is currently licensed.
"Cities need to take a more proactive stance," said Eric Hauge, of the tenant advocacy organization HOME Line. "They need to make a license a privilege, not a right."
Theresa Grygelko took a company connected to the Jaweeds to court in the past year after her unit in Forest Lake's Hillcrest Apartments was damaged by leaking water. Forest Lake doesn't have a rental inspection or licensing program for apartments.
"That's probably why there are so many bad landlords in Forest Lake, because they know they can get away with it," Grygelko said. A judge ruled this spring that she should be let out of her lease.
Many tenants who live in buildings connected to the Jaweeds said they feel trapped and don't know where to turn for help.
"The rent is affordable, so I don't have a choice," said Martha Wongbah, a single dad who lives in Center Pointe. "I'm stuck here."
Lora Pabst • 612-673-4628