Northfield Estates in the News, Second Article. Jan 31, 2017
Updated: Jun 15, 2018
The state of Northfield Estates: City officials respond after months of complaints
Jan 31, 2017
The apartment complex, Northfield Estates, has seen a variety of issues from insect infestation to bricks falling off the building. Residents have complained of cockroach infestation since the fall. (Nick Gerhardt/Northfield News)
Cockroaches take up residence in a cabinet inside an apartment unit at Northfield Estates. (Submitted photo)
Cockroaches appear in a frying pan in the apartment of a Northfield Estates complex. Tenants have dealt with cockroaches for months in the apartment complex. (Submitted photo)
Cockroaches make their way to a head of lettuce inside an apartment at Northfield Estates. Residents have dealt with insect infestation for months and several times throughout the years. (Submitted photo)
A shower at an apartment in the Northfield Estates complex. (Submitted photo)
Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series that highlights rental housing issues in Northfield. The accompanying pieces will run Feb. 8 and Feb. 15. The Northfield News spoke with residents under the condition of confidentiality because they were concerned about retribution.
For more than a decade, the apartments of Northfield Estates have faced problems. Time and again little change takes place, tenants say.
That is until the city stepped forward on Friday, announcing it would be taking on a unit-by-unit inspection.
Cockroaches have infested buildings and rental licenses haven’t been renewed on time for the four-building apartment complex located at 710, 720, 730 and 740 N Hwy. 3, according to records from the city of Northfield.
Residents went three days without water after a pipe broke in September, according to three residents the Northfield News spoke to on the condition of confidentiality. They also say their complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
The city of Northfield has just two full-time building inspectors and one part-time employee; combined they handle inspections of more than 2,200 units in the city, according to the 2010 census.
In 2016, Northfield Estates, LLP rented without an approved license for 10 months, according to city documents.
After Northfield Estates, LLP submitted its rental license application Jan. 26, 2016 for all four buildings, according to documents from the city of Northfield, it failed to perform all of the related work stemming from four inspections in 2016, according to Northfield Community Planning and Development Director Chris Heineman.
“The previous inspections in 2016 were related to rental code and building maintenance issues, and did not indicate the cockroach issue,” Heineman said.
Despite renting without a license on at least three previous occasions, according to the documents, Northfield Estates, LLP has only been fined once. It was fined a $200 late rental license renewal fee June 11, 2012 despite the city finding the 710 building fell below minimum housing and life safety standards after public areas were found unsafe and unsanitary, documents show.
According to the documents obtained by the News, in Jan. 3, 2012, renters complained about the heat not working. The tenant who filed the complaint also expressed concern about eviction for talking to the city.
After renting without a license in 2016, Northfield Estates, LLP has paid the application fee for its rental license and additional fees for renting without a license for the past year, Northfield Building Inspector Jim Kessler said. The city received a check for more than $4,000 on Friday to cover the fine for renting without a license in addition to the application fee, Kessler said.
Rental licenses must be renewed every two years, according to the city of Northfield’s rental ordinance, and every rental property is sent a letter 90 days before its rental license is set to expire.
Within 60 days of the license expiring, application materials and fees are to be sent to the city. Inspections should be scheduled within 30 days of the license expiring, he said.
“It is their responsibility to schedule the inspections,” he added. “We do rely on the property managers to schedule the inspections.”
Now, Kessler said, the city will conduct a monthly check of properties that are required to be licensed that month.
Mayor Rhonda Pownell, Councilor Erica Zweifel and members of the Northfield Human Rights Commission toured an apartment at Northfield Estates Friday, after members of the Human Rights Commission spent the past four months compiling a list of complaints from residents.
Cockroaches have remained in apartment units despite extermination attempts, Heineman said.
“We have records of the exterminator who has been on site several times,” Heineman said.
The city of Northfield rental housing code states that its purpose is to “provide minimum standards to safeguard life, personal health and safety, and the public welfare by regulating and controlling the use and occupancy, maintenance and repair of all buildings and structures within the city which are used for the purpose of rental housing.”
The rental housing code also establishes that any violation is a misdemeanor and subject to civil penalties.
In the press release issued at 9:30 p.m. Friday, the city of Northfield said it is increasing its capacity to “complete a unit-by-unit inspection of all rental units, common areas and exterior conditions of the property.”
Heineman and Kessler said the city has discussed the possibility of adding a contracted inspector to help with the inspections in February. Heineman said the city will pay for the cost of the contractor and that he anticipated the cost could be absorbed by the rental license application fee.
The city has also started a schedule for the process and the owner is complying with the scheduling, the release said. Immediate corrective action related to health and safety concerns may be available and will be pursued as necessary by staff, the release said.
Kessler said he and his staff inspect every unit of a complex when they do inspections, and if Northfield Estates, LLP performs all of the improvements the city outlines, it can be granted a provisional license, according to Heineman.
Northfield Estates, LLP was granted a temporary license in 2008 as well, according to documents obtained from the city. A property may be issued a temporary rental license and extension once within a five-year period, according to the city’s rental housing ordinance.
Maintaining licenses with other regulators has been an issue for Northfield Estates, LLP as well. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office issued a certificate of revocation for Northfield Estates, LLP’s business license June 15, 2015. It was later reinstated Sept. 22, 2016. The business has also had its license revoked in 2009 and 2013 only to be reinstated later.
Though the behind-the-scenes licensing doesn’t affect tenants, what happens on site does.
When the pipe broke in September, water and waste from the toilet backed up in apartments, soaking floors and carpets, according to tenants.
“We needed our carpet cleaned because the bathroom backed up,” one resident, who spoke to the News off site, said.
In September 2012, a renter reported alerting the manager 20 days prior about a bed bug problem before contacting the city, according to documents obtained from the city of Northfield.
The Northfield News contacted manager Ana Lavold and her assistant, Sheila Cruz. Cruz reported that the district manager was on site Thursday inspecting each apartment and also said she and Lavold were at Home Depot buying products while speaking with the Northfield News.
The next day, the city issued its press release noting it was increasing its inspection effort.
“It was an important move,” Pownell said of moving ahead with unit-by-unit inspections after hearing complaints. “We really wanted to people to know that we had heard them.”
Nick Gerhardt is the Northfield News Associate Editor. You can reach him at 645-1136. Follow him on Twitter @NfldNewsNick.