Renters could soon be moving back into Country Village Apartments, a complex in northwest Burnsville that was shut down by the city in March after management failed to address squalid, dangerous conditions.
On Tuesday, the council approved a provisional rental license for Country Village, but first the council demanded what Councilor Dan Kealey called a "come to Jesus explanation" from Lindahl Partners, a family-held company that owns the complex.
"I think we need an explanation as to why it took so long. That's what we expected to see after we first discovered this problem and were just finally seeing some action on it," Kealey said.
The complex has been empty for over six months. Lindahl Partnerships, previously known as Lindahl Properties LLP, lost its rental license in January 2012 after failing to correct hundreds of building and fire code violations in the run-down buildings. The squalid conditions were uncovered in spring of 2011, after a fire broke out at the complex. Residents approached firefighters at the scene with a long list of complaints, sparking an protracted investigation that revealed hundreds of building and safety code violations.
In spite of the company's repeated promises to improve the neglected buildings, only 30 apartments units had been deemed habitable by the city by the time Lindahl lost its rental license— less than a quarter of the total number of units at Country Village.
In early July, Lindahl asked the city to reconsider. Tuesday, city staff showed the council evidence of substantial improvement at the property. Three of the six apartment buildings passed muster, Building Official Scott McKown said: 3805 Sibley, 3809 Sibley, and 3848 Hamilton.
Lindahl also sent new—seemingly more contrite—representatives to argue its case, including a new legal advisor, new construction manager and Dr. Ann Lindahl, daughter of Chief Owner Dolores Lindahl.
When pressed for a "Come to Jesus" confession, Lindahl's Attorney Bruce Malkerson said that the company's lack of progress had nothing to do with money troubles. By his estimation, the family had spent millions on the project so far, and their financial resources would more than suffice for the rest. All told, it would likely cost $10 million to complete the renovations needed to bring the buildings up to code, he said.
The best explanation Malkerson could give the council was that the company was plagued by "bad communications."
"I don't think I've ever had as unique a situation as this one. In all my previous appearances before you I had control of the applicants, and they did what the city wanted to do," Malkerson said. "They had been working on it, but it wasn't coordinated the way it should have been."
Nevertheless, Malkerson assured the council that the company had turned a corner.
"I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't think it was behind us. I believe it will be done by Dec. 31, if not before, Malkerson said. "I think they have shown remarkable change."
In light of the most recent inspection and the apparent attitude adjustment, city building officials outlined three options for the council:
- The council could deny the request until everything for the entire complex was done, a choice that building officials felt would offer the least risk and cost to the city.
- The council could grant Lindahl a provisional license for the three buildings as requested (which would expire on Dec. 31, 2012), though there would be no penalty if Lindahl stopped work on the three remaining buildings.
- The council could approve a provisional license for the three habitable buildings, but impose a penalty of $100 per day, per building, if work on the remaining buildings was not done by a specific date.
City staff recommended option three.
Council Member Mary Sherry was unmoved. She said she was "underwhelmed" by the $10 million figure Malkerson mentioned, mainly because Lindahl wouldn't have to spend that much on renovations if Country Village had been properly maintained in the first place. She also pointed out that other Lindahl was a repeat offender. In 2011 officials in the City of Shakopee filed criminal charges against Dolores Lindahl, who is over 80 years old, after it was discovered that a rampant bedbug infestation had gone unchecked for years—in spite of tenant complaints.
"We have given these people every break under the sun, over and over and over again," Sherry said. "I can't in conscience grant them a license because I don't trust them. I've had enough."
"These owners not only showed disdain for us as council, and to our staff, but to the tenants who they allowed to live in those horrible, horrible apartments," Sherry continued. "I went there today myself. It does look much better but it's not done."
Kealey was a bit more sympathetic, though he added that the episode had left "a pretty bad taste in our mouth." Though Kealey said it would take a while for the city to forgive, he was "open-minded" with respect to the third option. However, he felt that the financial penalty for delay was too lenient.
"I don't want pull a provisional license and force people out again. When we (revoked the license) we weren't hurting the Lindahls," Kealey said. "We were displacing families. That was very traumatic for a lot of people."
Instead of the $100 surcharge outlined in option three, he suggested a "two-for-one" deal. For each two buildings done, Lindahl would get a provisional license for one.
"The reason I say this is I'm not sure $100 a day is significant enough. That's tiddlywinks for you," Kealey said.
In addition, Mayor Elizabeth Kautz demanded that Lindahl attend each council meeting and provide updates until the work was done. Ultimately, Kealey and Kautz prevailed: The suggested measures passed three to one. Sherry was the lone dissenting vote. Council Member Dan Gustafson was not present at Tuesday's meeting.
Want to know more? Read on.
- Council Clamps Down on Country Village, Suspends Landlord's License (Oct. 19, 2011)
- Country Village And Its Residents Granted Small Reprieve (Dec. 22, 2011)
- Tenant Advocate Suggests a Route For Dealing With Country Village (Jan. 17, 2012)
- Country Village Loses Rental License (Jan. 19, 2012)
- Country Village Residents Scramble to Find New Homes (March 1, 2012)
- Owners Seek New Rental License for Country Village Apartments (July 5, 2012)
- Country Village Management Puts Request for New Rental License on Ice—For Now (July 18, 2012)