Looking out the window of her cottage on a sliver of land along Lake Minnetonka’s Crystal Bay, Nancy Edwards proclaims herself “property rich, but income poor.”
The 74-year-old grandmother lives on about $1,500 a month between Social Security and an annuity, she said. She has a reverse mortgage just to pay property taxes. For the past 15 years, she has depended on an income boost in the spring and summer when she rents out her boat dock, currently running $3,000 for the season. In addition to use of the dock, the agreement allows her renter to stay upstairs in her home and use the kitchen, driveway and garage.
“Maybe I’m the only person on this lake who doesn’t have my own boat,” Edwards said, “but I don’t and I shouldn’t have to have an empty dock.”
The City of Orono, however, says otherwise.
It cited Edwards for violating a city ordinance, a misdemeanor. If convicted, Edwards faces up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Her arraignment is scheduled for Thursday in Hennepin County District Court
“It may be that she is dependent on this income, but you don’t get to use your property in a way that is illegal,” said Steve Tallen, the prosecutor.
Edwards’ attorney, Erick Kaardal, has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.
“The city is exceeding its jurisdiction and should just leave the poor woman alone,” Kaardal said, adding that docks fall under the authority of the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District. He contends that Edwards should be exempted from the ordinance because she was renting the dock before it was passed in June 2012.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen how when cities get into disputes with elderly or vulnerable residents, it doesn’t always go well simply because they can’t marshal the resources,” said Kaardal, who is representing Edwards at no charge.
Edwards was cited for the code violation in mid-June, shortly after she said she mentioned to a local marina that she was leasing out her dock.
Tallen said if someone rents a home they may use its dock without violating the ordinance, but he believes that Edwards structured her rental agreement as a workaround.
Edwards said she understands that the city doesn’t want pop-up marinas, but she said that adding a single boat on her dock should be allowed, at least for low-income residents like herself.
“To blanket apply this to everyone in a way that you can’t even have one boat on your dock if it’s not yours just isn’t right,” Edwards said.
She said she has lost sleep over the court case and worries what could happen if she loses the rental income. Aside from the money, she said, the four people who have rented her dock over the years have become her friends and often help her with yard work and other chores. As a single woman in remission from esophageal cancer, she depends on that, too, she said.
Edwards said she fears having to give up the small, 160-year-old cottage that has been in her family for more than half a century. She knows she could sell but wants to stay.
“My end goal is to go on living my life the way I have been,” Edwards said. “If I have to leave over this, it’ll kill me.”