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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The North Loop Move: Our Transition to a Simpler Life

A lap top computer open on a table in a community living room.
A lap top computer open on a table in a community living room.

Lynn’s  new virtual office in the Solhavn Living Room.

Six weeks has passed since John and I loaded up our remaining downsized possessions, left our beloved Lowertown apartment in the Cosmopolitan and migrated to Solhavn, a new residential building located in the emerging Minneapolis North Loop neighborhood.  Exciting, adventurous, exhausting and scary, we’ve learned a few things by making the transition to a simpler, more streamlined existence.

1. It’s easier to see what matters. As our sporty Mazda 3 rolled away and the leather sofa was carted off, what remained were the positive impressions of the people we had sold them to and the fact that we had each other.  No matter how difficult we thought it might have felt to let go of our “stuff” we realized that waking up together was the most important thing.

2. Life is easier with less.  Coming from good German stock, and having the subsequent “everything-must-be-spotless gene” in spades, owning less furniture (we purged 13 pieces) means that I have less dusting to torment myself over each weekend.  Our home is furnished with comfortable essentials, minus the fussy surfaces that really didn’t serve us well and soaked up precious time in upkeep.  There are also far less under utilized sporting goods, clothing and housewares to store, dialing down the “my stuff/your junk” tension in our marriage.

3. Living close to work and interests and having good telecommute options, enhances daily life immeasurably. Traveling less between work, hobbies and home has made the stress level go down significantly in both our lives.  Even without  car ownership, I have a number of options available to me to travel the less than one mile to my company’s new office. On some of the dangerously cold days this winter, it’s been easy to set up my virtual office in the Solhavn living room.  John walks to the downtown studios to record commercials and we both hop the city bus with our skis in tow to take a quick 10 minute ride to the Wirth Park Chalet.  When summer arrives, our options will only increase with the Cedar Lake Bike Trail and Mississippi River Parkway at our doorstep and three Farmer’s Markets at which to shop.

4. People think we’re cool. One of the unexpected boons of downsizing, going carless and moving into a building and neighborhood that supports green living is that a number of people, from our friends and acquaintances, to my daughter and future son-in-law,  fawn over our choices.  Our building’s general manager shared with me last week that she told her mom the story  about our downsizing move to the building with the hope of inspiring her to do something similar.  Liv and her betrothed, both confirmed carless Chicago urbanites, revel in the idea of having less in order to live in a new building with cool, eco-amenities. They quiz us about our carsharing options and the building’s composting system when they visit.  All these kudos have us feeling like rock-star level urban hippies! (And we’re liking it!)

5. Doing something different is fun and inspiring!  Without a doubt, moving is an extremely stressful process.  But to John and I,  living a life devoid of adventure would be worse. Though we’ve only moved across town, the North Loop feels like a

A man and woman seated at a counter smiling.

Our first weekend in the North Loop we made friends at the counter of Mill City Cafe over Sunday brunch.

totally different planet than our old neighborhood.  People dress different, have different hobbies and interests (there are many more like-minded athletes in our new building) making the new friendships we’re forging interesting and exciting.  We’ve been so inspired by the change that we’ve volunteered to start a Yoga Club and an Urban Gardening Club in our residential building!

Change is hard, but has its rewards. Let the new adventure begin!

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.

The Heart of Community: Good People and Great Service

View from the living room window with apartments on the next wing's windows close by.

First living room choice was little too close for comfort, so we opted for the view behind door number two.

A few days ago John and I had lunch in the North Loop and stopped by the leasing office of our new building,  to learn what we could regarding the construction issues.  Our leasing agent, Peter Gulstrand, took the time to talk to us and give us a clear picture of the construction delays facing many of the apartment and condo building going up in the Twin Cities.   He also guided us through the construction site and took us up to our newly completed unit.

Once in the apartment, we realized that living room window’s positioning in relation to the line of sight with other units made us less than comfortable regarding the degree of privacy we might have.  Taking that into consideration, Peter took us a few doors down to show us another newly completed unit, that was not only positioned out of the line of sight of future neighbors, but had a better view  and also included the balcony I had originally wanted for container gardening.  He then showed us what other areas of the building that he could, given the construction process, to give us a better idea of how the building was developing.

Peter allowed us the time and space to contemplate the unit switch, and was very accommodating when we called him to change our already completed lease agreement for the other apartment. “We want you to be happy here for a long time,” he countered, when we apologized for being high-maintenance.

So often, it’s easy for us to find what is wrong with the organizations and people we work and do business with.  That’s why we felt it was important to say how impressed we were that, despite the obvious pressures of the delays in construction and juggling the needs of many future renters, the leasing team at Solhavn has gone over and above for us.  They are not a large staff,  but they have given us the feeling, any time we work with them, that we are extremely important to them.

This is not an easy mark to hit when one considers that John and I are moving from one of the most highly-rated apartment buildings for customer service in the Twin Cities.  Our home at the Cosmopolitan on Mears Park, is managed by an award-winning team of people (2012

John and Lynn standing in the kitchen of the unit.

Checking out the newly completed kitchen–John is so excited to use that amazing gas stove!

Duebener Award, among others) that feel much more like members of our family, than people who collect our rent.  When I was living alone and became ill, the Cosmopolitan staff offered to go to the drug store for me.  Staff members also attended my and John’s wedding reception.  The Cosmopolitan staff members have been a part of some of the most important moments in our lives while we lived here.  We believe that the people managing our building understand the heart of community better than anywhere we’ve ever lived.

It’s wonderful to look forward to living in a new building that exemplifies this same philosophy: that good people and great service, make a rental community a home.

A Secret Lowertown: The Community Before the Rush

A view through a fence of Lowertown's historic buildings.

Not long ago, Lowertown was an abandoned urban center that housed a close-knit community of artists and people who appreciated their work.

When my daughter and I moved to Lowertown seven years ago, we were deeply moved by the amazing sense of community we found here. What many people who come here for park concerts, bar crawls and weddings don’t realize is that , before it became the “hippest” place to move to in the Twin Cities, it was a small, close knit community of artists, and people who appreciated their work.  Before Barrio and the Bull Dog beckoned young suburbanites and peddle pubs to our streets, buildings may have been empty, but our neighborhood  was full of people who knew each other and lived together very well.

Just as little as 10 years ago Lowertown was a neighborhood that had been  ignored by it’s own city government for so long that weeds had taken over a good share of Mears Park, and citizens were taking it upon themselves to prune trees and pick up garbage along the streets.  When I moved here, the city had acquiesed to providing garbage pick up service in the park once a week, but those of us who cared purchased our own plants and maintained the gardens and grass ourselves.

Despite the neglect, our community thrived.  Artists came to live here and put on amazing cultural events.  People who believed in the potential of community built an independent coffee house, called the Black Dog, and provided a wonderful venue for musicians.  And those of us who admired the creativity came here to be next to it all. That’s why we didn’t mind pulling our own weeds, picking up our own garbage and being ignored by the rest of the world.  Most of my friends and coworkers had no idea what I was talking about when I told them that I lived in Lowertown. (Lower..what?)  But those of us who lived here knew we had the best kept secret on earth.

As John and I prepare to leave behind a neighborhood we invested ourselves in, made friends in and even fell in love in (our first date was

Friends having dinner at Lynn and John's Lowertown apartment.

Our community was made up of people who knew each other well and socialized often.

at Loto, now known as Faces on Mears Park), I like to look back and remember that we were a part of a community here.  As the walls of the Gillette building come down, and a youthful bar patron screams at his friends beneath my bedroom window tonight, I want to remember how safe, welcoming and harmonious it felt to live here once.

Neighborhoods and cities aren’t that different than children.  They either grow or they die.  But the growth may not always be something you can live with.   So we move on with the hope that we recapture something of that safe, nurturing community in our next neighborhood.