Landlords screw north Minneapolis tornado victims, but are also victims themselves

North Minneapolis landlords are holding rent deposits from people whose homes were damaged by the tornado

North Minneapolis landlords are holding rent deposits from people whose homes were damaged by the tornado

It's been three weeks since the tornado devastated north Minneapolis--and many victims are still waiting for their landlords to make things right.

Some of the landlords aren't making repairs yet. Others are opting not to make repairs at all. Still more landlords are withholding deposits from tenants forced to move out of homes deemed uninhabitable. 

"If they think they can keep someone in there and not fix things while collecting rent, they cannot do that," says Don Samuels, Minneapolis City Councilman.

Some of the bad landlords may face lawsuits: Legal Aid has collected 32 cases of tenants complaining about mistreatment by their landlords. Half the cases are over missing deposits, ranging between $800 and $1,300, says Drew Schaffer, Legal Aid attorney.

However, none of these cases has been filed in court yet, because by law, property owners have three weeks to mail the deposit checks. The nonprofit is waiting until the end of the week to determine which cases to sue out.

Besides, tenants aren't the only victims of the tornado. Property owners are victims, too--of a slow-moving insurance bureaucracy.

Given the number of tornado-damaged properties across not only Minneapolis but also the nation, insurance companies are swamped. So it's taking them time--two to three weeks--to send adjusters out to estimate damage.

It takes another two weeks to cut the check. Typically, the payment is addressed both to the property owner and the mortgage company. To cash it, the landlord has to wait for the mortgage company to release the check, which can take weeks.

"It's a tough system," says Thad Bembenek, owner of Repair King, a company rebuilding 15 tornado-damaged homes. "You would think in a crisis they'd hurry things up."

Even when the money finally comes, insurance doesn't always cover all the damage.

Storm damage, right after the tornado hit May 22

Storm damage, right after the tornado hit May 22

"I've got customers where a tree fell on top of the garage and both cars are damaged," says Bembenek. "The insurance company comes out there and said, 'You're missing 20 shingles, so we'll replace that. We think the tree estimate's too high, so we're not going to pay for that.'"

All this explains why, in some cases, houses still have trees lying on top of--or in--them. On Monday, city inspectors began a house-by-house sweep to determine which homes need to be condemned.

"I think the tragedy is that we have people living in houses where they perhaps should not be for their own personal safety," says Roberta Englund, executive director of the Folwell Neighborhood Association.

Anyone having post-tornado problems with their landlord can call Legal Aid for help at 612.332.1441.