Tenants of problem St. Paul buildings offered buyouts

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2012 - 10:07 PM

Real estate company Equimax also will give signing bonuses to residents who move out quickly.

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Tenants at the Westminster Court Apartments in St. Paul have until July 1 to move out, regardless of whether they accept a buyout incentive, called “cash for keys,” by the current property managers.

Photo: Holt, Jerry, Star Tribune

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New managers of two troubled apartment buildings in St. Paul's Payne-Phalen neighborhood offered buyouts Wednesday to tenants who have complained forcefully for months to City Hall about deplorable living conditions.

Equimax Real Estate of Wayzata wants the tenants out so that extensive repairs can be made.

"It was our hope to do a transition where existing residents could reapply and be screened under the normal standards of our property management company and be offered leases with us in current units or rehabilitated units. We quickly learned that the scope of necessary work required us to vacate the property," said the letter from Equimax's president, Wade Shatzer.

In numerous public and private meetings with city leaders, apartment residents pleaded for help and told of problems with mold, rodents, urine-stained carpets, broken locks, nonfunctioning kitchens, crime and unplowed parking areas. The tenants said former owners Peggy and Randall Chun of St. Paul rarely responded to their concerns and contacted them only to seek rent payments.

With empty buildings, Equimax can shut off the water and electricity to bring in repair crews to remedy more than 300 city fire, health and safety code violations in each building, Shatzer wrote. The violations were documented during a December inspection of the buildings at 1205 and 1225 Westmin-ster St., just off the Maryland Avenue exit of Interstate 35E.

The letter went out about a week after city Fire Inspector Sean Westenhofer issued an order of condemnation for the buildings. The order required departure by July 1, but doing so could take longer should tenants appeal. If tenants take the cash, the buildings can be emptied sooner. A hearing requested by the tenants is scheduled for Thursday at City Hall.

The buildings have about 30 rental units each and have generated a substantial history of police calls for thefts, drug dealing and prostitution. Lower-income renters have limited options for housing and have been faced with the prospect of losing their homes since winter.

City Council Member Amy Brendmoen, who represents the East Side, said the city has had two goals with the buildings: to ensure safety and to make sure tenants have new places to live. "We're obviously monitoring the situation to see how the advocates and tenants react" to the letter, she said.

The apartment buildings were foreclosed upon and then sold to Pine Ridge Capital Management of Edina, which hired Equimax.

The company is offering what is called "cash for keys."

Shatzer said the company wants to help the tenants. Records show most of them didn't make security deposits and owe rent. Shatzer said the company not only would pay residents, but waive past-due rent if tenants agree to move.

Tenants who hand over the keys will be given a month's rent from Equimax. Households that vacate by Monday will receive an additional $300. Tenants who sign an agreement to move by Monday, but cannot move that quickly, will receive $150.

"We sincerely hope this offer and proposal is accepted by all residents and that the property is vacant on July 1. If anyone remains on the property at that time, Equimax will move ahead with court-order-ed eviction starting July 2," Shatzer wrote.

A three-bedroom apartment in the units rented for $1,195. A two-bedroom leased for $795 per month.

Some of the tenants are represented by Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services. Their lawyer did not return a call.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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