Minneapolis tenants protest rent hikes for moldy, bug-infested apartments

Marta Pacheco's ceiling is a mottled spread of mold.

Marta Pacheco's ceiling is a mottled spread of mold.

Jason Quilling owns a cluster of apartment buildings in Minneapolis’ Lyndale neighborhood that are home to some 100 working class families. This winter, he’s increasing rents up to $125 a month. It’s a decision that spells possible eviction for residents who say they haven’t seen crucial fixes that would actually justify such a hike.

Marta Pacheco and her 2-year-old daughter live in a QT Properties apartment that they keep clean and neat. But in their bedroom, a chunky, blackish mold has spread halfway across the ceiling. Tucked into inconspicuous crannies in their kitchen and bathroom are sticky pads full of the shriveled evidence of a bug infestation.

When Pacheco asked for maintenance last year, QT sent someone to simply cover up the mold with paint, she says. Records show that she complained again in early October. Nothing has yet been done.

Her neighbor Abdi Dhimpil has a ceiling that drips whenever it rains. A video he took shows water bubbling out of the bathtub drain. It smells foul, he says. Dhimpil reported the issues in September.

When tenants of Quilling’s buildings in the 3000 block of Pleasant Avenue South received notices of rent increases on November 3, some reacted with panic. They had just under a month to sign or – if they declined – until February 1 to vacate.

They couldn’t understand why they had to pay more when they hadn’t seen any noticeable upgrades. They were afraid that it’s already too late to find another place to live in a competitive rental market at a competitive time of year. Many Minneapolis rental agencies establish leases in November, but few allow tenants to move out during the winter months, even if they pay month-to-month.

Quilling says he appreciates his tenants’ hardships. But none of that is his fault, he says. He too has bills to pay: utilities and property taxes for the 350 units that he owns in Minneapolis. He wants to bring all of his properties closer to the market rate in Lyndale, which is around $800 to $900 for a one-bedroom.

The landlord blames Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia, a tenants rights advocacy group that specializes in helping Spanish speakers have a voice in their living conditions, for encouraging the residents of Pleasant Avenue to put up a fight. He insisted that QT Properties has “taken care of every single work order that any of these people have called in.

“It’s really a city that has some questions that they need to answer,” Quilling says. “The property taxes are a complete pass-on to the residents. If our taxes go up, who ultimately pays for that? That does get absorbed by the end users, which are the residents.”

He gave his building at 3021 Longfellow Ave. as an example of skyrocketing property taxes. That site is up 24 percent, Quilling says.

City records disagree. They show taxes for that property are only up 7 percent from last year.

On Wednesday, Quilling will meet with city councilmember Alondra Cano to discuss the rent increases.