HavenBrook tenants bring demands for repairs to landlord’s office

By: - June 17, 2022 4:22 pm

HavenBrook tenants and activists staged a rally outside the New Brighton office of property manager Progress Residential on June 17, 2022 to call on the company to address longstanding health and safety concerns with the homes they rent. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Tenants of HavenBrook Homes, one of the largest private landlords in Minnesota, held a rally outside the property management’s office on Friday in New Brighton, where they tried to meet with the company’s local staff.

Renters marched into the office of Progress Residential, the new property management company for HavenBrook, and asked to speak with management and deliver a petition signed by 68 tenants.

The petition asks HavenBrook to freeze rent, provide restitution to tenants, pay for moving expenses for tenants who need to move and offer tenants the first right of purchase should they sell their portfolio.

Tenants didn’t get past the front atrium, where a staff member told them through a window that she was the only person available to speak with the group.

Jimmy Harris, a HavenBrook resident, began reading the petition to her but she left after a few sentences.

“I need help,” Harris called after her, before throwing the petition through a gap in the window.

Tenants then pasted pictures of their homes — with holes in the walls, damaged siding, leaking pipes — on the front of the office windows and held a rally where they were joined by activists and union members.

The protest was the latest effort by tenants, with support from the renter advocacy group Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia (United Renters for Justice), to put pressure on HavenBrook to make repairs. Earlier this year, some families began withholding their rent and putting it into escrow.

HavenBrook tenant Jimmy Harris asks to speak with staff from Progress Residential and deliver a petition signed by 68 tenants on June 17, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

More broadly, renters and activists hope to draw attention to what they say is a growing scourge of private-equity firms gobbling up single-family homes and charging high rents only to let properties fall into disrepair.

A spokesman with a New York-based public relations firm provided a statement on behalf of HavenBrook saying the company has quadrupled its local maintenance teams and transitioned property management from HavenBrook to another national firm called Progress Residential.

“Throughout these transitions, our commitment has remained steadfast: striving to ensure the residents we serve have access to high-quality, affordable homes and are fully supported with consistent, dependable and attentive service,” the statement said.

A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found that the share of investor-owned properties in the Twin Cities metro has more than doubled over the past 15 years, from 1.8% to 4.1%.

HavenBrook Homes is owned by Pretium Partners, a New York-based hedge fund that controls some 70,000 rental properties across the country, including more than 600 single-family homes in the Twin Cities metro area.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit against HavenBrook for failing to maintain its properties. Ellison alleges the lack of maintenance is part of the company’s business model, pointing to claims from Pretium that profits from its single-family rental business rival those of apartments, which are typically more profitable.

Brianna Lofton says the problems with her north Minneapolis home began almost immediately after she moved in a little over two years ago. The bathroom sink was clogged and when anyone flushed the toilet, it would leak into the basement.

HavenBrook sent someone to repair the leak, which returned a few weeks later, Lofton said.

The leak led to mold, Lofton says, which HavenBrook allowed to get so bad that her throat swelled up and her toddler developed a head rash that wouldn’t go away. Her emails and calls to HavenBrook led nowhere as the mold made them sicker, leaving her feeling powerless.

“I cried a lot,” Lofton said.

HavenBrook tenant Brianna Lofton points to where mold was growing that sickened her and her daughter. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

After about three months, Lofton evacuated with her four daughters to a hotel, which HavenBrook paid for while the company had contractors remediate the mold in the basement. Since then, both her throat and her youngest daughter’s rash have cleared up, though Lofton notes the contractors never rebuilt the walls they took down to address the mold.

Mold hasn’t been the only problem. Last winter the heat went out, leaving them to rely on space heaters for two months in the winter, Lofton said, pointing to a $350 faux-fireplace space heater in her living room.

There’s also chipping paint around the house that Lofton fears contains lead, given the age of the house and the disclosure she received from HavenBrook, though she hasn’t had it tested.

She said Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia, the tenant advocacy group, has helped her and her neighbors organize themselves to get the company’s attention.

“That’s when we started to get a response,” Lofton said.

The company has begun to move tenants to other properties. Lofton accepted an offer from the company to move to a different HavenBrook home in Robbinsdale after they told her the house had been selected for renovation.

The Twin Cities metro has been plagued by a shortage of affordable rental housing, which Havenbrook tenants say leaves them feeling trapped.

But tenants say HavenBrook rents aren’t exactly cheap either. Lofton says she pays $1,445 a month for rent plus another couple hundred dollars for utilities. She also has to pay $40 a week to have the lawn mowed since she doesn’t own a mower.

“Rent is too high,” Lofton said. “And tenants shouldn’t have to leave. HavenBrook should just fix the problems.”

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.