Scores of month-to-month renters at a large and affordable Osseo housing complex have been told by new management that their apartments must be vacated for upgrades, leaving many with no choice but to find another place to live.
The renters say they weren't given an option to reapply to continue to live there until it was too late. Some neighbors believe that up to half of the 86 units are already vacant, with more people expected to move out through April.
The notices sent out by QT Property Management, which took over the four buildings in August, have put a dent in the affordable housing available in Osseo, a north metro city of 2,800.
But Christopher Huntley, an attorney for QT, said the apartments needed to be cleared out for upgrades, something that hadn't been done in decades. "You can't do these types of renovations when these buildings are filled," he said.
Huntley said he didn't know how many vacancy notices QT had sent or how many residents had moved out. More than 30 renovated units were already up for lease Wednesday on the company's website.
"They wanted to essentially vacate the entire property because the renovations they wanted to do were going to be very intrusive to the tenants," Huntley said.
Long-term tenants, such as Greg Smith and his fiancée, are being allowed to stay until their leases expire. But their lease, paid with a Section 8 voucher, ran out this month.
"We were long-term tenants," Smith said. "And aren't those what you want in a building like this, a long-term … tenant who always pays their rent?"
Notices began appearing under apartment doors at the end of last year. "Please consider this letter the required 30 days written notice to vacate the premises," they read. "This letter also serves as a legal termination of your lease on the reference property."
Management sent out another letter to renters this month, saying they could reapply to live in a renovated building if they met criteria. By that point, however, several households had already moved out.
Smith packed the last of his fiancée's belongings into a U-Haul truck last weekend. He said the couple planned to move to a duplex in Grand Rapids, Minn.
"Lots of them are already gone," Smith said, referring to other tenants. "It's kind of a shame."
City officials say there was nothing they could do about it.
"We'd like to see all of these people be able to stay in the city, but that's just not in our [purview]," City Council Member Harold E. Johnson said. "We had no time to discuss this as a council."
'Landlords ... can't win'
The Osseo apartments, located near Hwys. 169 and 610, were bought last year by 6th St. Apts, LLC, which filed as a business last July, according to state records. City documents list Jason Quilling as the company's contact.
Quilling, who declined to comment, is listed as the manager of QT Property Management by the Better Business Bureau. The BBB gave the company a failing grade and said it is not accredited under its standards.
QT has undergone scrutiny in the past from residents of its former Minneapolis properties. A group of them brought a discrimination lawsuit against the company in 2015, according to court records, and tenants' rights groups have rallied against it for other housing issues over the years.
Tenants of the Osseo apartments began to organize earlier this year after receiving the vacancy notices. They reached out to city officials, churches and advocacy groups that help connect people to housing resources.
A group of them, along with Council Member Johnson, chastised QT managers at a meeting of the Osseo Planning Commission last week for not being initially given an option to reapply for renovated units even if they were willing to pay more. The commission signed off on a variance for an office and workout space in the middle of the property.
In an interview, Huntley expressed displeasure with tenants' rights groups, saying landlords such as QT are "constantly harassed" by them even if they improve neglected buildings.
"A lot of these tenant advocacy organizations are creating such issues for these landlords that they're essentially chasing them out of that market," he said. "[Landlords] are put in the position where they can't win."
The loss of affordable housing is caused by many economic factors, he said, but negative interactions with low-income renters have dissuaded landlords from dealing with them. To make a profit, he said, properties must be renovated and rented "to more affluent tenants."
Since taking over the Osseo property, Huntley said, QT has slashed the number of active work orders from more than 340 to the single digits. Two-bedroom apartments, for which some tenants once paid $900 a month, were now going for about $1,100.
Kristine Brown, who has lived in the Osseo complex for 13 years, was in one of the last buildings to receive a notice. "I felt so discriminated against," she said last week.
But she said she was relieved by the recent letter saying she could reapply to an upgraded unit, and that she planned to do it. Her 12-year-old son would be able to take the same bus to school, she said.
Last week, she addressed the Planning Commission with her service pup, Harley, in hand.
"All of us give to this Osseo city," she told commissioners. "We love it, we give to it, and there's no reason why we should all be kicked out when we should have an option."
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753