A rental property owner in Shakopee who's run into problems with the city has had her rental license revoked in Burnsville.
In December of 2010, the City of Shakopee cited 84-year-old Delores Lindahl personally on three counts of "Permitting Public Nuisance," for allowing a severe infestation of bedbugs and roaches to persist unchecked at Hunter's Ridge. According to court filings, the state dismissed two of the citations in April, though a third was continued in July.
After months of investigation which uncovered more than 120 code violations, the Burnsville City Council has suspended the Lindahl's rental license at Country Village Apartments. The rental company, Lindahl Properties LP, says the search for evidence violated Lindhahl's constitutional rights.
Burnsville's Deputy City Manager Tom Hansen said it was rare for the city to suspend a rental license, but that conditions at Country Village called for drastic measures. On Tuesday, Council members voted to suspend Lindahl Properties' rental license for two months, less than the maximum penalty. During that time, the owner is forbidden from renting vacant units.
Hansen describes the city's battle with Lindahl Properties as a "seven-month, chronic challenge." It began in March, when the Burnsville Fire Department was called to a kitchen fire at the apartment complex, on the city's northwest side. There, residents approached the firefighters with a litany of complaints, said Fire Marshall Lee LaTourelle. Fire department officials soon discovered that the six buildings had no operable escape doors, no carbon monoxide detectors, and most of the smoke detectors were missing or defective.
City staff claims these violations are just the tip of the iceberg. Since May, city employees have spent more than 500 hours documenting violations at Country Village through hundreds of photos and reports. The investigation revealed soaked carpets, exposed electrical wiring and plumbing, broken electrical sockets, missing sheetrock, and sagging ceilings and floors, with mold growing rampant inside some of the apartments.
In some units, the plumbing was nonfunctional and dry. In others, the water ran constantly. LaTourelle told the council that one single mother and her two children were living in a state of perpetual damp due to a faucet in their bathroom, long-broken, which poured out a ceaseless, unstoppable flow of hot water.
In another building, city employees found a toad living quite comfortably in a vacant unit filled with standing water. City staff said the complex is overrun with mice, squirrels, a multitude of cockroaches and other insects.
"They gave them to us in a jar," LaTourelle said. "Some people told us they were afraid to turn the lights out when they went to sleep because there were so many."
Administrators first sought to solve the problem through diplomacy. City officials said they met with Lindahl and her associates on three separate occasions, but the city claims the rental company hasn't followed through on promises to bring the property up to code. By LaTourelle's estimate, only 25 percent of the violations had been resolved.
"They have been very cordial and apparently sincere, but we have not gotten results," Hansen told the council. "It’s a very big challenge at this property. They have made some honest effort and said all the right things, but they just haven’t gotten the work done."
Members of the council did little to hide their disgust. Council member Mary Sherry said she was embarrassed that such a place existed in Burnsville.
“It really broke my heart. It's wrong to do this to people," Sherry said.
None of the council members quibbled with staff's suggestion to impose a penalty.
"The owner needs more motivation. Those pictures are absolutely inexcusable," said Council Member Dan Kealey.
Lindahl Properties hasn't offered an explanation as to how or why the property had fallen into disarray, Hansen said.
"Lindahl Properties LP will not comment on the specific details of ongoing litigation concerning the Country Village Apartments," Lindahl's attorney, Jason Hutchison, wrote to Burnsville Patch. "However, Lindahl Properties LP takes its responsibilities as a landlord seriously and is actively working with the City of Burnsville to address any concerns they might have concerning the Country Village properties."
At the meeting, Hutchison assured the council that Lindahl Properties was in the process of repairing the property.
"My client initially attempted to resolve it with in-house maintenance, but opted for an outside contractor instead," Hutchison said. "The company has spent tens of thousands to get geared up with this. We understand the concerns and that we're under a significant time crunch."
If problems persist at the property after the suspension is up, the council can revoke the owner’s license to rent in Burnsville when it comes up for renewal in 2012. If that should happen, all current tenants in the 138-unit complex would be evicted.
In addition to the suspension imposed by the city council, Lindahl Properties faces misdemeanor criminal citations in the Dakota County court system.
The attorney for Lindahl Properties entered a not guilty plea on Oct. 5. Six days later, he made a motion to suppress key evidence in the case—including Lindahl's own statements to law enforcement and the results of repeated inspections—on the grounds that Lindahl's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated during the investigation.
Hutchison contends city officials searched the property without a warrant by using keys contained in a "Knox Box," a wall-mounted safe that contains keys to a large property that can only be accessed by emergency personnel during a crisis. Thus, Hutchinson argues, the evidence gathered is inadmissible.
Hansen deferred comment on the constitutional issue raised by Lindahl’s defense, but he did say the city was well within its rights.
“Our goal is to enforce these ordinances and we have every ability to go in and check on the status of these codes,” Hansen said.
The next court hearing is set for December. If the Lindahl camp is found guilty, the court could impose additional penalties.