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Halima Eidl, a resident of Westminster Court apartments in St. Paul, can’t afford to leave her decrepit unit and, she said, the landlord won’t make repairs.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

A welcoming sign outside the Westminster Court apartments belies the conditions inside the buildings. Foreclosure appears to be imminent.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Families face eviction from infested St. Paul apartments

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • January 9, 2012 - 8:56 PM

Halima Eidl lives in a St. Paul apartment that has urine-stained carpet and also mold, mice, roaches and rats. Despite that, she isn't looking to move.

But Eidl and about five dozen of the city's poorest families could find themselves homeless later this month.

The families live in two East Side apartment buildings that are on the verge of bank foreclosure, city condemnation or orders for eviction.

Because money is short, moving isn't possible for most tenants, including Eidl and her daughters, Rashida Eidl, 17, and Maidah Ali, 11. Halima Eidl said owners Peggy and Randall Chun repeatedly ignore requests to fix problems.

"She called me yesterday to pay the rent," Eidl said. "I said, 'I'm not paying you because you don't do nothing.'"

In early December, an inspection of the two buildings at 1205 and 1225 Westminster St. yielded nearly 300 code violations -- an appalling number to City Council members. The buildings each have about 30 rental units and also have produced a substantial history of police calls for thefts, drug dealing and prostitution.

More than a dozen residents from the buildings went to several City Hall meetings in recent weeks to complain about the landlords. The Chuns did not attend.

In a written response, however, Peggy Chun disputed the city's findings, saying aggressive enforcement of the housing code "has caused landlords and low-income tenants hardship for many years."

The Chuns will appeal any action against them by the city, she said.

Chun said she would work to avoid having tenants relocate "by making every effort to remedy all deficiencies."

Her letter didn't address the bankruptcy matter.

Wells Fargo filed in Ramsey County District Court to foreclose on the Chuns for the $3.1 million mortgage on the buildings, which are just off the Maryland Avenue exit of Interstate 35E. The bank will ask a judge next week to appoint a receiver who could begin repairs on the battered properties.

The City Council sent a letter to the court supporting Wells Fargo's effort. The letter said the council "concluded that given the city's lengthy experience with the non-performance of Peggy and Randall Chun, with even the most basic maintenance ... it was very unlikely there would be adequate repairs made to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the buildings' occupants."

For now, the council plans to wait for the court ruling before deciding whether to condemn the properties, which would force out the tenants.

"What needs to happen is somebody needs to take responsibility for beginning the repairs," Council President Kathy Lantry said in an interview. "There's got to be some stabilization."

Council Member Amy Brendmoen, who represents the area, said residents complained mightily to her about crime at the apartments while she was campaigning. "What I've heard is outrageous," she said. "There's been a real breakdown in the landlord-tenant relationship."

Eidl, who lost a leg to gunfire 20 years ago in her native Somalia, said that when she paid an $800 deposit for the unit the Chuns told her they would make repairs, but didn't. She pays $468 for the apartment, with the remainder of the $1,195 rent federally subsidized.

A tour of her apartment showed numerous problems: no doors on the closets, mold encrusted windowsills, dead insects in overhead lights and a broken dishwasher.

"She takes the money from the government and she doesn't do anything," neighbor Adade Kuegah said of Peggy Chun.

Kuegah and his son live in a $795-per-month, two-bedroom apartment. He had assistance from a charity with the rent for the first three months. A hole in the main door from a prior police raid was pasted over with paper. One burner works on his stove, but his oven does not. The lock on his sliding glass door is broken, and so is the chain on his main door. The outside door on the building has no lock.

"We don't have any security," he said. "Everybody can come and go."

Kuegah, an unemployed immigrant from Togo, said prostitutes knock on his door regularly.

Although the Chuns continue to collect rent, the lawsuit said they haven't paid on their mortgage since February.

Randall Chun earns $99,400 as a researcher in the state House of Representatives. Neither he nor his wife returned several calls to home and office.

The Chuns, who live in the Summit-University area of St. Paul, said in court documents that a fire in 2008 drastically diminished their revenue from the buildings.

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

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