Telltale Signs of a Bad Rental Experience

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Renting “high end” or “luxury” doesn’t make one immune to living in buildings that aren’t well managed or  may be hazardous to your renter’s credentials.

I have a confession to make. Despite the polished veneer we put on our blog entries in late 2013-14 regarding our first rental experience in Minneapolis, what actually happened was more closer to a nightmare than most anywhere I’ve rented in my life.  No doubt, that is why my blog entries for UD became markedly fewer and far between.  A period of recovery was necessary after what occurred.

This all came as an extreme surprise after the 8 years of rental bliss we experienced in Lowertown,  with building staff who attended our wedding reception and slipped cards under our door for significant life events.   But our first 18 months living near downtown Minneapolis taught us that:

  • Renting “high end” or “luxury” doesn’t make one immune to living in buildings that aren’t well managed and, as in our case, may be hazardous to your renter’s credentials and cause you a high level of personal stress.  (In my case, the stress landed me overnight in Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s cardiac unit for observation last year.)
  • A positive high profile doesn’t always indicate what’s really happening in the building.  In our case, the building owner’s reputation appeared to be outstanding, and this person still receives positive coverage in local newspapers for his business and building projects.
  • If it feels strange, inappropriate or out of control in any way, it probably is.  Run, don’t walk, to the next building on your list.  No matter how much you like the neighborhood, the layout of the apartment or the closeness of the location to your office, it’s not going to end well.

Settled in a new rental home as of last June in a building that isn’t perfect, but also no longer feels crazy and micromanaged, John and I look back at the stress we lived in for 18 months, and realize that there were signs and red flags about this place that we should have heeded.   Below is a list of things we noticed about this building, and ignored.  We hope that you might benefit from our hindsight if you’re looking for a new rental home.

  1. Few rental staff, and lots of interns. The summer of 2013 when we first viewed the rental building, it was really difficult to find anyone who really knew what was going on.  This was because everyone we encountered was an “intern” and had not been properly educated in rental leasing procedure.  I’m not even certain if this is legal, but it probably didn’t matter to this group if you note what was occurring in #2.
  2. Staff with no rental management experience.  The really odd thing about our ordeal was that the staff, and general manager of this rental company in particular, were extremely proud of the fact that no one on staff had ever managed, or even worked in a rental building before.  In fact, the general manager shared with a couple we became close to in the building, that she had been the building owner’s wife’s doula for each of his children. “Do you think he hired the other leasing agents because they served him coffee once?” commented my neighbor.

    “The owner feels that this is a fresh approach to apartment management,” the general manager said to me a number of times over those 18 months, “we all have a new perspective about what running a rental home should be.” Yes, they were certainly correct about that.  Here are just a few example of how  this “fresh approach” worked.

    Residents were not told in advance when things were going to happen in the building, such as, we were given no warning about moving our cars out of the garage to facilitate cleaning.  When it was finally announced that the cleaning would be on Saturday, with a threat that unmoved cars would be towed, it was on a Thursday evening when some people had already left for the weekend.

    During the entire period of our rental, the staff (at the owner’s instruction, we were told) ignored federal laws by telling residents that “we aren’t enforcing disability parking here, so you can go ahead and use the handicap spot whenever you want.”  Even the owner did this, repeatedly and openly.  The staff also used our mailboxes, which are property of the US Postal Service, as a vehicle to deliver building promotional flyers, lease notices, small packages that were delivered by FedEx and other services,  to residents.

    The list of things that this staff and the owner did to us, and other tenants, during our time there that bent and broke fair housing and anti-discrimination laws are almost too numerous to name.  The foremost was marking ours, and the rental history records of at least 2 other tenants we knew of who were leaving the building, with a  “would not rent to them again” notice, without providing us/future landlords with any reason when asked. (A big legal “no, no” according to Minnesota HUD.)  Needless to say, if you are working with inexperienced rental leasing staff, I think there are far greater chances for things to be done unlawfully, even if you’re paying a premium price for that space.

  3. The owner’s name repeatedly into conversations about renter’s requests and needs.   One of the big bonuses of leaving this building was that I NEVER AGAIN HAVE TO HEAR ABOUT WHAT THE OWNER WANTS, THINKS OR FEELS and how this is supposed to be something I need to be concerned about.  The group of residents I knew in this building during that time used to have long discussions over wine about how useless it was to make any requests to staff, because they were only concerned about how the owner might feel about any decision they made.  We noted this throughout the leasing discussion, and had a sinking feeling that the building was being micromanaged, but loved the architecture so much we ignored it.  Bad move.
  4. They get important details wrong.  As we were preparing to sign our lease, we noticed that they didn’t seem to be tracking on key details like the agreed upon price for our rent.   We had to take the time to explain this to them and get the lease re-crafted, before signing.
  5. The lease is a novel-length list of reasons for not returning your deposit.  This is the first lease I have ever seen that stated that if there were any “scratches or dents” found in the apartment after we left, that a cost per each scratch or dent would come out of our deposit.  In fact, the list of potential damages that could diminish our deposit was long, ridiculously detailed and included a complete itemization of what each infraction of the rental infrastructure would cost us. They only way we could hope to get our deposit back would be by living somewhere else and keeping our furniture, and ourselves, out of the unit. (John used to joke that the owner should have built an autoclave, not an apartment building.) 

Sadly, there was more than just these five red flags, but I have to say I’m getting kind of depressed typing this.   We all want to believe that where we live will be a place that nurtures us, and, in apartment communities and condos particularly, allow us to contribute positively as members of a close-living community.  Hopefully this list shows you that there are ways to spot a situations that may not be in your best rental interest and to find a happier, healthier place to call home.

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It’s Christmas Time in the City Filled With Memories

Three photo greeting cards of children seated on Santa's lap from Dayton's in the 1960's.
Three photo greeting cards of children seated on Santa's lap from Dayton's in the 1960's.

It’s very likely that my mother came away with a greeting card photo of my visit to Santa that looked like one of these issued by Dayton’s in the mid 60’s.

Spending the holidays in the city is distinctly different than the ones I knew as a child, growing up in rural Wisconsin. Strangely, it is no less nostalgic for me, the memories are simply of a different flavor.

Growing up in community of less than 2,000 people, a trip to “The Cities,” which was what we called downtown St. Paul and/or Minneapolis, was a rare and exotic treat.  There was always a purpose behind a trip of this nature, such as a scheduled visit to the Orthodontist for one of my older sisters.

However, one year, when I must have been 3 or maybe 4 years old, I recall my mother taking me to downtown Minneapolis to “see Santa.”.  Prior to that, our visits to Santa were annual, but limited to him appearing on the back of a fire engine, or in the town fire hall on a Saturday afternoon, in our little town of Prescott.  Thus, it was surprising and strange to me that he could or would appear amid the excitement of a visit to “The Cities.”

In those days, Dayton’s was in the early stages of launching their annual holiday show in the 8th floor auditorium of their downtown Minneapolis store, The department store itself held a volume of goods and people that any small girl, residing on a farm set back from the trunk highway by a one mile long driveway, would naturally find overwhelming.  I recall being surprised that there could be so many people in the world that I did not recognize and whose names I did not know.

The theme of that year’s show was “Peter Pan” and, entering the auditorium, the entire display seemed

A holiday gift box from Dayton's Department Store in the 1960's.

A holiday gift box from Dayton’s Department Store in the 1960’s.

larger than life to me.  We soon learned that Santa, who seemed entirely out of place in the warm, tropical feel of “Never Never Land,” was located on Captain Hook’s ship. The ship is really the only thing I remember about the display with any detail, and I recall wondering how they managed to get it inside of the store. Sincerely hoping that the rogue pirate did not have him fastened to the mast or walking the plank, we found Mr. Cringle safely stationed in what I remember to be a cabin inside the large ship.  I then remember being frightened out of my mind by stumbling upon the crocodile on the ship’s deck, after meeting with Santa, complete with a ticking bomb inside.  Sadly, we were not able to locate  archived photos of Dayton’s Peter Pan holiday display, so I am only able to share my written memories with you.

Taking in the 2014 “Santa’s Workshop” in Macy’s this year with John and my mother-in-law, Ellen, the scale and intensity of the display, though not of the same impact, does evoke memories of the first time I entered the store and auditorium in the mid 1960’s.

Downsizing the Final Chapter: Going Carless

John seated in the Mazada 3 passenger side, with Diana in the driver's seat.

John riding back from the bank with Diana, the really cool person who bought our Mazda 3 last Saturday.

As the Urban Deluxe blog page count down calendar ticks away with less than a month remaining until our migration from Lowertown to the North Loop, we realized that it was time to engage in the ultimate act of downsizing: selling our car.  Our beloved Mazda 3 was something we had purchased a few months prior to our wedding two and a half years ago and, in many ways, it felt like a part of our family.  With John’s cool Thule rack fitted to the roof, it had whisked us off on a romantic ski honeymoon to the kettle moraine’s of southern Wisconsin and on many other trips and adventures.

Daily life was also going to be vastly different.   The transition was less pronounced for me, given the years prior to our marriage that I lived with transit and car sharing as my primary means of transportation. However, with John’s agent’s office, Moore Create Talent,  located on the west edge of Uptown, and the studios he often works with, like Audio Ruckus, being located in downtown Minneapolis, getting to voice auditions and recording sessions was going to be a new experience for him.  But, with carsharing stations near our home in downtown St. Paul and additional options, like Car2Go, now available in the North Loop, we knew that we’d still have the option to use a car for errands difficult to execute on foot or by bike now, and after our move.

John valiantly posted the car on Craig’s List and we waited for inquiries.  It took only a week before received a solid “bite” and, within two, the car’s new owner, Diana, was driving us back from signing papers at our neighborhood credit union and dropping us off at our door, on her way back to her home in Rochester.  A little stunned by how quickly we had been able to divest ourselves of our only vehicle, we watched our beautiful black Mazda drive into the sunset.  “We need to get groceries this weekend,” John commented when got back upstairs to our apartment, so we reserved the local HourCar for our trip to Mississippi Market for later that afternoon.

The morning following our first carless shopping trip, John looked up from his espresso and said, “I feel lighter this morning.”   What do you mean, I queried, “I just mean it’s so nice to not have to think about taking care of that car.  We don’t have to think about gas, insurance or getting the snow tires on.  It’s amazing how much mental energy that takes.”

Our first official carless trip to the grocery store had gone smoothly and before long the week progressed and we found ourselves running a number of errands on the bus as well.  Planning our transportation had become a little more involved, but John was

John driving a car.

John driving the HourCar Toyota Prius on our inaugural “carless” trip to Mississippi Market.

especially surprised by how relaxed he felt at the end of our first carless week.

Then we began finding research about the subject. Citing an article John had located in the Huffington Post, we talked about how studies are beginning to show that people can improve their well-being when they exchange their cars for biking, walking and transit, simply because they’re not sitting in traffic anymore. (The absence of the stress caused by the inconsistencies we encounter in traffic situations, is offered as one potential explanation.)

“I just felt happy today,” John explained to me over dinner this evening.  “Even when I was riding on the bus with people I wasn’t necessarily comfortable around, I was more relaxed.”  When I inquired as to why that might be he paused, and then answered, “I think it’s because I didn’t have to face the traffic on 6th Street trying to get on the to highway.  I just got on the bus, turned on my IPod, listened to Stevie Ray Vaughn and relaxed until I got to my appointment.”

When you take into account that these words came from a man who has been a car owner his entire adult life, and is also an avid car buff–one who can give you make, model and year of any classic car by spotting the flash of a tail light in the dark–you can begin to comprehend the power of what going carless can mean.  Though our decision to go carless was a necessary step we needed to take  to sustain my ability to keep working in a mission-based startup business, it’s incredible to see how much both of our lives have already been enriched by letting go of our car, in just one week’s time.

Downsizing: The Gains of Letting Go

Couple removing drawers from the dresser they're moving and smiling.

The awesome couple that purchased our dresser and sent us a photo thank you note the next day!

With five weeks left before our move to the Minneapolis North Loop, the sorting, listing, selling and packing efforts have escalated in our Lowertown St. Paul apartment.  Craig’s List has become a repository  for the abundant quality furniture and sporting goods John and I brought into our marriage 3 years ago.  As a result, exchanging emails and texts with a wide variety of strangers as far away as Wisconsin, has become part of our daily routine.

Before we entered this process, we talked about how painful it was going to be to not have the things we loved around us.  We speculated feelings of loss and sadness would accompany these days leading up to our move,

But letting go of our possession has yielded some unexpected gains.  We’re learning that the lives we have led in the past and plan to lead in the future, are really much more centered around the people we’re meeting than the things we possess. This wisdom has been an immeasurable discovery for us both:

  • As John parted with a much-loved sofa last week and we helped the young family from south Minneapolis who purchased it load it into their truck, I gave their 6 year-old daughter a ride up and down the sidewalk on the furniture cart.  The simplicity of the moment was topped off when we heard the couple express their joy at finding a beautiful leather couch at a price they could afford.
  • A young woman moving to a new apartment was giddy about finding my black iron four-poster bed.  Without reservation, she gave us the cash payment in full when we told her we’d be happy to hold on to it for her for 3 weeks, demonstrating a trust in us that took us totally by surprise.
  • Photo of a living room with leather sofa, and dining table and chairs.

    Our beloved leather sofa, and living room, prior to this month’s downsizing via Craig’s List.

    An affable couple from Eden Prairie purchased John’s IKEA dresser for their son’s bedroom and didn’t bat an eye when we showed them that one drawer was losing its bottom. “We’ll just reinforce that,” they told us and happily, without any mention of paying us less for the piece.  They were flattered to  pose for a picture I told them I’d like to use in Urban Deluxe and,  the next morning, my phone contained a text from them.  It was a photo of the dresser in its new home with a “we’ll take good care of it for you” notation.

  • The DVD towers that no one seemed interested in finally walked out the door when a woman from Eau Claire Wisconsin connected with me. “The timing is perfect,” she gushed, “I’m coming to the Twin Cities tomorrow with a Uhaul to pick up some other things.  I’ll swing by on my way out of town.”  As I helped her load the towers she too said, “I’ll give them a good home.”

With every sale and each pick-up, we met someone who not only appreciated our taste in home furnishings, but also seemed to understand that we were saying goodbye to a part of our lives.  The fact that they were aware of this and wanted to reassure us that they knew the value of what they were taking home, was extremely touching and heart warming.

But perhaps the most significant moment of our downsizing journey occurred in relation to the pieces of handcrafted furniture my dad had made for me and some items that belonged to my mother.  I knew we couldn’t continue to hang on to these pieces in a smaller apartment and hiding them away in storage didn’t seem right.  So I got in touch with a niece, who also happens to be my Godchild.  She and her family live about an hour away and had just purchased a home, so it was possible that the might welcome the chance to have some additional furniture.

It had been several years since we had spoken and I wasn’t certain how my desire to contact her would be received.  When she was young,

A pretty young woman smiling.

My niece today with the same beautiful smile I remember.

I had been very involved in her life, even bringing her to live with me for a summer.  But circumstances, including my estrangement from her mom (my older sister) and time had taken their toll and I wasn’t certain if I would be welcomed into her life again.

Now a wife, mother of three and a nurse, I was glad to know that she was doing well.  I decided to reach out to her and inquired if she would like to have some of her grandparent’s things.  Without hesitation she replied that she’d be glad to have them and, last weekend, she and her husband stopped by our home to pick up the heirlooms.

There was no discomfort, no shyness and no regrets.  All I saw before me was a beautiful young woman who knew what she wanted from life and seemed OK with the idea that I was in it.   We laughed and she told us about her kids, her job and plans for the holidays.  She issued an invitation to John and I to join in the festivities and paused to reminisce about the family photos we had hanging in the hallway.

On her way out, she paused at our front door, hugging me for the fourth time and said, “I’m up here all of the time for work.  Let’s do coffee soon.” That’s when I realized what I had gained by letting go.

Clandestine Tour of the new Solhavn

Photo of apartment building with blue sky and white clouds overhead.
Barricade in the apartment lobby and floor to ceiling glass windows into the conference room.

The new Solhavn lobby with marble fireplace and conference room, awaiting their furnishings.

This afternoon, following a business meeting in Uptown, I took advantage of the lateness of the afternoon and the sunshine, to run our updated lease agreement over to the rental office of our new apartment building.  The leasing office is located in the completed sister-building to ours, but I was able to see that, just a block away, the door to our new building was standing open allowing the early autumn breeze to drift through the transitioning structure.

One of the Solhavn staff cheerfully accepted our updated lease and explained, when I asked if I could poke my head into the new building, that we needed to arrange a tour for another day. “The building is still under construction,” she explained, “and we can’t let you go in without staff.”  She apologized, but the leasing agents were presently in a meeting and I demurred, not wishing to take up more of her time, having come over unannounced.

Besides…the door to the new building was standing wide open and I could see the construction crew packing up their tools and heading down the street to their cars.  So I did what any self-respecting future tenant, and blog writer would do, I sneaked inside.

With camera phone at the ready, and a watchful eye for annoyed contractors, I wandered through the new, half-finished public spaces on the first floor of our new home.  Noting the gleaming fireplaces, fixtures and appliances newly fitted to their destinations, I captured the public living room chandelier and took a photo through the glass door of the new brew-pub.  My clandestine journey lasted only about 5 minutes, but it was fun to get a quick look of things taking shape in

Chandelier next to a tall step ladder, suspended from a partially complete ceiling.

Solhavn’s elegance begins to emerge as the graceful chandeliers are fitted to the public rooms.

the place we’ll be moving to next month.

I finally walked out into what will be our new backyard, and took a few shots of our newly assembled balcony. (Yes, they finally arrived!)  It’s fun to consider relaxing out there next year at this time, and sharing moments around the fire pit and barbecue with friends, family and my company’s staff.  Enjoy the snapshots of my adventurous afternoon in the new Solhavn.

Brew-Pub room under construction with green hanging lamps and a wood counter.

Solhavn will have a Brew-Pub, outfitted with premium espresso dispensed Swedish modern style.

Apartment building courtyard with barbecue and sheltered areas being built.

The spacious outdoor space in the building’s courtyard. Our balcony will overlook this area.

The Last Art Crawl: Saying Goodbye to the Lowertown Artist Community

Photo of one of Caroline Mecklin's nudes on canvas

Lowertown artist, Caroline Mecklin, is one of the Jax Building artists facing potential eviction as upscale condos and apartments overtake nonresidential artist studio space.

This weekend heralded not only a closure to mild summer-like weather, but also the last Saint Paul Art Crawl John and I will attend as residents of Lowertown.  Each spring and fall we’ve participated in these events as spectators, art patrons and neighbors to the extremely talented people living and working a stone’s throw outside our apartment door.  This is evidenced by the original artwork that graces our home from Lowertown talent such as Rhea Pappas (now a Minneapolis artist) to Barbara Evans and Caroline Mecklin (Jax Building/4th floor.) It’s also apparent in the Lowertown-handcrafted jewelry that is a part of my everyday wardrobe.

It has been both a pleasure and a luxury to be able to watch such creativity happen around us and to bring it into our home twice a year. The Art Crawl and the live music we’ve enjoyed at the Black Dog Cafe, will no doubt be the most significant experiences we will miss as we move to the Minneapolis North Loop in late November.

It is interesting to read the local papers as “experts” and city leaders continue to insist that the art scene hasn’t changed in Lowertown, and won’t, once the ball park and bars begin to gear up in the next two years.  But for those of us who have lived here prior to the “Lowertown hype,” the change is already marked and very apparent.  Long time resident artists, such as Mike Hazard and Rhea Pappas have already left for more receptive artist neighborhoods.  And, the building that houses some the artists who John and I feel are among the most talented in the district, the Jax Building, is rumored now to be slated for the wrecking ball or refurbishment, in order to make way for–you guessed it–another luxury condo or rental community.

Jax Building artist, Caprice Glaser, spoke with us today as we visited her studio. “We hear that we will all probably have to leave,” she explained to John and me. “The building won’t house artist studios anymore.”  When I asked her how she is dealing with losing her studio space she said, “I try not to think about it.  I just come in and work on my art.”

Artists sketch and instructions on how to purchase from their studio.

A sample of some of the unique signs independent artist in Lowertown create for the Art Crawl each year.  It was this kind of creativity that drew us to the event.

If you believe that Lowertown is beyond “gentrification” because two of the buildings are designated as artist cooperatives (Northern Warehouse and Tilsner, both artist studio/residences) you may want to take a closer look into reality artists are facing down here.  The former abandoned warehouse space in the neighborhood was artist-friendly because it enabled individuals with less financial means to afford studios here.  The Jax Building in particular enabled individuals who did not want to live in their work space, to have studios.  This means that, for artists who don’t wish to, or aren’t able to reside where they work, Lowertown will likely not be a viable place for them for much longer.

Some of the artists we chatted with today also stated that they were being compelled to consider relocating because the increasing neighborhood noise was interfering too much with their creativity as they attempt to work in their studios.  No amount of designated artist funding will shield these people from the sound of construction (which, we’re being told, will be complete in about 5 years), increased

Metal table top and hanging sculptures by Caprice Glaser, displayed by a window in her stuido.

Also in the Jax Building, the studio of Caprice Glaser, a favorite Art Crawl artist. Caprice concentrates on her art rather than considering the loss of her beloved studio space.

traffic and the inevitable cacophony that comes from people patronizing an entertainment district and ball park.

Another change John and I noted in the Art Crawl this fall is that non-independent artist participation is seeping into the event.  For instance, Blick Art Supply had a booth stationed on the corner of Prince Street, in front of the Black Dog Cafe, giving out logo tote bags, almost as if the event were part of the Minnesota State Fair.  I remember when, as recent as last spring, the Black Dog reserved this prime spot for local jewelry makers and portrait painters.  It would appear that even our local cafe has gotten caught up in a movement that favors sponsors who can rent space, over the local artists displaying their goods.

As much as John and I would love to believe that the Art Crawl, and the artists we supported and enjoyed, will be here when we come back to visit, it’s hard to deny the signs that the future in Lowertown may not include them.

Lowertown Sunday Morning

Photo of the cafe paito with iron chairs and lush summer plants.

The heart of Lowertown, the Black Dog Cafe, where the baristas remember you and there were good friends to be met.

As John and I begin to sell furniture, sort belongings and pack boxes in the remaining  few months before our move to the Minneapolis North Loop, we are savoring our Lowertown Sunday morning ritual in a bittersweet fashion.  Our weekends for the past four years have been accented with Sunday meditation and a dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen center, followed by coffee on the Black Dog Cafe patio and completed with a trip through the Farmer’s Market.

True, the neighborhood is much more populated and bustling than it was when we begin this routine, and yes, many of the familiar faces and neighbors we used to greet on those Sundays, have left for other neighborhoods which were more receptive to artistic creativity  and residential quiet.  But it is not without some pangs of sadness that we embrace our last autumn of this warm weather ritual.

Thus, we are dedicating this edition of Urban Deluxe to a Lowertown Sunday morning that will live

Photo of tomatoes lining a table at a farmer's market.

We have been told that there will be three Farmer’s Markets in the North Loop area, but we will still miss this one that was just outside our door.

on in our hearts and memories.  We share it with you in photographs.  Please share with us what you love about them, your own Lowertown experiences and anything else that moves you.  Enjoy.

Brick warehouse buildings with the sun shinning on them.

Lowertown’s beauty stems from its neglect. A forgotten neighborhood withstood the urban renewal of the 1970’s and we enjoy its beauty today in century old warehouses.

Yellow and purple mums planted in mounds in a flower bed.

A Sunday stroll in Mears Park yields views of a lovely fall garden by our friend and downtown business owner, Bill Hosko.