Prompted by a tenant’s lawsuit, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled this week that the city of Minneapolis must perform code inspections at public housing in the city.
The city has contended that the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, a separate agency, is responsible for those inspections. The housing authority serves more than 26,000 residents with public housing and Section 8 vouchers.
According to the ruling, Stacey Marable, a mother with four children, moved into one of the housing authority’s scattered-site homes in 2013.
She later reported to the authority that the house had a deteriorating roof and mold contamination.
When the housing authority said it found nothing wrong, Marable hired her own specialist who detected unsafe levels of mold spores.
Still unable to get help from the housing authority, Marable reached out to the city of Minneapolis.
But officials told her that the city was not responsible for conducting inspections or issuing code violations to the housing authority.
The housing authority eventually moved her to a new property but Marable also found problems there with the water system and rodent infestations.
After she filed a lawsuit, the city and the housing authority each denied responsibility, according to the court of appeals ruling.
After her case was dismissed in Hennepin County District Court, Marable appealed.
“We must begin this opinion by trying to answer one simple question: if the Minneapolis housing-maintenance code applies to MPHA properties, and we conclude that it does, who enforces this code? Is it Minneapolis or the MPHA?” Court of Appeals Judge Francis J. Connolly wrote for the three-judge panel.
“Both respondents deny it is their responsibility and assert that it is the responsibility of the other respondent. We conclude that the municipal housing-maintenance code does apply to MPHA properties, and that Minneapolis has the responsibility for enforcing it,” he wrote.
John Shoemaker, an attorney representing Marable, said this is a case of “the little people versus the big establishment” and that public housing residents were put into “a vulnerable and defenseless position.”
He said the ruling puts public housing tenants on the path to being treated the same as private tenants when they seek recourse for inadequate repairs.
“This is a breakthrough that impacts really a surprisingly large group of people that … have been denied these rights for decades,” Shoemaker said.
The city is evaluating options for appeal, said Sarah McKenzie, a spokeswoman for the city, in an e-mail.