Minneapolis apartment building’s renters experience overwhelming rain damage
The walls are freshly painted, tenants say, but the ceiling is untouched. Photo from Nafi Soumare/Minnesota Reformer.
When a disgruntled tenant confronted his property manager about the water streaming in through his Minneapolis apartment ceiling, her response was unhelpful.
“I can’t stop the rain,” she said, according to the tenant. And she was laughing.
He and his neighbors at 905 Franklin Ave. W. have been experiencing inclement weather indoors due to a broken skylight in a hallway on the fourth and top floor. It remained unrepaired during late September’s torrential rain. And that’s just one of the problems tenants are dealing with at the 46-unit building that dates to 1902.
“The entire skylight is just a tarp,” read the comments on a city inspector’s report. Tenants say the tarp has been in place for two months.
Alexandra Johnson, the property manager with Old Home Management, LLC, told the Reformer in a response to written questions that the skylight and parts of the roof were damaged due to an August hailstorm. The glass takes time to be measured and fitted for the skylight, she said, and even then, repairmen weren’t able to start work on it until this week.
“This unpredictable event had adverse consequences that took more time to correct than we would have liked,” Johnson said.
Tenants say Johnson told them she couldn’t make repairs without the express approval of the building’s owner, who operates under Dankmar Arms, LLC. When September’s rain storms began to damage the units, Johnson told tenants that the owner was on vacation, and they had to wait to begin repairs. Dankmar Arms, LLC is registered to Kevin C. McMullen, though residents say they struggled to get in contact with him.
The tenant, who has asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, has a different story. He says management stalled on making repairs until tenants got city inspectors involved. Even since the installation of the new skylight, water has continued seeping through.
The building reeks of mildew and the chemical moisture remover called DampRid. The carpeted stairs in the communal hallway are squishy, and city inspectors told residents that stairs should be examined by a structural engineer due to safety concerns. Hardwood floors in the units are lifting in some places and darkened with wood rot in others. Drywall is flaking off the walls, and sediment from the roof is falling through holes in the ceilings.
The top floor of the apartment building, the one most ravaged by water damage, is vacant after its last remaining tenant moved out last month. One top floor unit has holes in the ceiling, allowing dirt and grime from outside to spill onto the floor. The linen closet has black mold growing on every visible surface; early videos from a former tenant’s TikTok and YouTube pages show mold growth and water gushing out of the ceiling. Tenants report maintenance has since painted and spackled over parts of the wall to cover up the mold, but patches of damage still show.
The building’s status is another reminder of the precarious nature of life as a tenant, when an absent landlord and apathetic management can suddenly throw life into disarray. The troubles of the tenants of 905 Franklin Ave. W. arise amid a national housing shortage.
Minneapolis has enacted a series of reforms designed to empower tenants, while also encouraging new construction, which has helped keep rental inflation down compared to other big cities. Across the state, rental vacancies have increased by 4.3% this year, and are still well above the national average.
Still, Minneapolis rents are up 17% since 2010 amid rising demand for affordable housing, giving landlords leverage to put off repairs.
Nearly half of the roughly 280,000 renters in Minnesota are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income on housing, according to the Minnesota Housing Partnership. One-quarter of renters are paying more than half their income on housing costs.
Despite the new pro-tenant and pro-development legislation, the situation at 905 W. Franklin illustrates the need for more comprehensive support for mistreated renters.
A young woman who lives on the third floor and asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from Old Home Management, said she lost many of her belongings to the water damage, from her late cat’s ashes to her prized book collection and a previously mint-condition iMac. Everything is now saturated with stinky rain water. The possessions she was able to salvage sit in boxes in the living room, the driest room in the apartment. Soaked puppy pads and half-full buckets line the floor in the rest of the apartment, rendering the space completely taken over by damp.
She estimates her renter’s insurance is not covering over $5,000 in damages. Her rental insurance agency told her over the phone that the building was unsound before she moved into her unit a year ago, thus they don’t have to cover it.
“I’m trying to save sentimental items that were from my dead grandmother, and I told [Johnson,] what the hell do you want me to do about that? That’s my dead grandmother’s scarf, that’s my dead grandmother’s blanket. How can I replace that stuff? She was like, ‘That’s not my problem,’” the woman said.
In her written answers to Reformer questions, Johnson didn’t respond to tenant allegations that she was uncaring. She denied that the damage had spread to any other units besides the ones on the top floor.
Residents reported seeing management and maintenance workers wearing N95 masks and protective clothing inside when painting over the mold, while insisting that tenants should not worry about health risks. Mold is especially dangerous for people with respiratory and immune suppression diseases or allergies, according to the federal Centers for Disease and Prevention.
“I’ve been getting sicker and sicker, I’ve been breaking out. Now I have to go get tested for mold, asbestos, and lead poisoning. Even my cat’s been coughing,” the young woman said.
Johnson didn’t respond to the Reformer’s question about potential health risks to residents.
Three tenants estimate that eight to 10 city inspectors have been in and out of the building since problems started to arise last winter. For them, it started with an on-again off-again boiler.
A tenant said the building was freezing in the early winter. Management gave him a space heater.
According to the same tenant, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, management still hasn’t started repairs on the broken boilers, with winter just around the corner. Johnson didn’t answer the question about the disrepaired boilers in the building.
Security is also a problem, tenants say. One woman has installed her own security system in the apartment. An alarm sounds whenever her doors are opened. Her back door doesn’t shut all the way, and she used a pair of Doc Martens boots to test whether or not a swift kick to the locked door would bust it open. The boot won. The same tenant claimed Johnson and maintenance entered her apartment multiple times without informing her, even damaging her security system.
“I would get texts at work from [Johnson] saying stuff like, ‘Turn the alarm off, turn the alarm off,’ and I’m like, ‘You didn’t tell me you were coming in,’” the young woman said. “My wall has cracks in it due to them trying to pull (the security system) out of the wall.”
Earlier this year, state lawmakers created a $500 penalty for a landlord’s unknown entry into a rental unit, along with other pro-tenant laws.
City inspectors’ notes confirm that management needed to repair numerous unprotected electrical units. There are no faceplates over many outlets, two tenants said. One outlet burned through the portable charger of one tenant and damaged the electronic batteries of another. In the upstairs hallway, an LED exit sign is hanging from its wiring, likely due to water damage from the nearby skylight.
The exterior stairwell connects residents to the back alleyway behind the building, where they deposit their trash. It shakes with every step, the metal brackets connecting it to the building are loose and unattached in some places. City inspectors’ notes confirm that the exterior stairwell was deemed unstable. A tenant told the Reformer a friend of hers fell down the back stairs but luckily was not seriously injured. The same tenant twisted an ankle on the wet interior stairwell.
Building management has been unwilling to negotiate on rent, with one tenant saying she was offered relief of just a half month’s rent.
The city has given Old Home until Oct. 20 to complete repairs on the building. So far, according to tenants, the skylight is the only issue to get serious attention from management.
So far, no tenants have concrete plans to take legal action against Old Home. “I told [Johnson] it was unacceptable, I told her I was going to file legal action, and she laughed. She said, ‘I have lawyers too,’” one tenant said.
Tenants who can afford to are breaking their leases and moving out due to the extensive damage, but they are still on the hook for rent payments until they are able to go into escrow. That’s when tenants make their rent payments to the court instead of the landlord, and the court pays the tenants back if repairs are not made. Once renters file with the county and an inspector has visited the building, the landlord has 30 days to make the necessary repairs.
For some tenants, 30 days of waiting is too long.
“We’re busy trying to save all of our stuff and find a new place to live. All we want to do is get out,” one tenant said.
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