• The New Slumlord of South Minneapolis

     

    Mostly Latino Low Wage Workers Take on the

    New Slumlord of South Minneapolis

     Minneapolis, MN. --- Juan Jimenez had not planned on going to the protest. He had never attended a meeting of Inquilinos Unidos, though he was aware that renters had been organizing in his apartment. Conditions had changed at his building but he had decided to not threaten the only affordable home he could find with the new landlord, and wait for the new normal to settle over his life. Now, after months of extra fees and strange demands, after threatening letters had been posted on his and his neighbor’s doors, moments after getting home from work on April 16th, he finally got mad. Juan stormed out of 3019 Pleasant Ave., an envelope crumpled in his fist, and piled his family into a taxi. He shouted the address of QT Properties to the cabbie. (Or at least the most recent address - they have had four different offices in the last 18 months.) Now he was fuming, tapping the envelope against his knee as he sped through South Minneapolis toward a crowd of about thirty people who didn’t know they were waiting for him.

     

     

    Jason Quilling, who owns 3019 Pleasant Ave., is the new slumlord of South Minneapolis.

     

    Between 2008 and 2012 the Minneapolis City Pages devoted a significant amount of resources to examining Spiros Zorbalas who they described as the biggest slumlord in recent memory. He owned 37 properties and went to jail several times for, among other things, possession of cocaine. Zorbalas was a colorful character who loved talking to reporters. Most of City Pages’ articles sensationalized the man and his habits more than the conditions his renters suffered. But it was these conditions that led Zorbalas, thanks to pressure from key city council members, to abandon his holdings in Minneapolis. About the time Zorbalas’ reign was ending, Jason Quilling began buying up properties in South Minneapolis.

     

    Quilling is not as colorful as Zorbalas. Zorbalas lived in a 5.5 million dollar beachfront home in Naples, Florida, while Quilling lives quietly on his Dayton farm. Zorbalas was described by City Pages as a ‘brash bon vivant,’ while Quilling hides behind a labyrinthine corporate structure. Zorbalas was an equal-opportunity abuser, while Jason Quilling profits from a blatantly racist business.

     

    Maria Alvarado has lived at 3019 Pleasant for 18 years. Her two sisters and her niece all live in the building next door. Maria’s life was “tranquila” until Jason Quilling bought the building in August of 2014. After that, “molestias todos los dias.” QT Properties placed weekly letters in bold colors on the front of the building and on her door, threatening fines for children playing outside, shoes left in the hallway, and apartment doors decorated with wrapping paper (as Maria does every season.)

     

    Many Latino renters had lived in 3019 Pleasant for over a decade, and more had lived just as long at 3105, 3023, and 3027 Pleasant, and at 3032, 3020, 3018, and 3114 Pillsbury, and at 3021 Longfellow. The story was the same in each building: the landlord never made repairs, but never bothered anyone and didn’t mind if rent was a little late. But when QT Properties bought the buildings, things started to change. The renters were curious of the changes, but didn't think anything of them until the threats and fines started.

     

    Several renters turned to Lyndale Neighborhood Association for legal advice about the new rules and changes to their leases. Their stories were alarming enough that Jen Arnold, lead organizer at LNA began door knocking in these buildings to learn more. She was joined by Natasha Villanueva and Roberto De La Riva, who are both school teachers and LNA boards members.

     

    The renters told similar stories but didn’t realize their neighbors shared their experiences. For example, in mid-February the renters had received letters demanding they pay rent online starting in March. The organizers heard over and over again, “I can figure out how to pay this way, but not everyone can.” The door knocks led to meetings, and the coalition of renters and organizers named themselves Inquilinos Unidos.

     

     

    Renters, sometimes still in their work uniforms, gather in an LNA meeting rooms to share their fears and frustrations about broken appointments, ignored maintenance requests, and how Fernando Campofreda (the property manager) and other staff treat them. The meetings always start with story-telling-- answering the question ‘why are you here?’

     

    Angela begins. In November when she and her roommate Marisela asked for repairs to their one bedroom, Fernando told them, “we don’t do repairs while people are living in the apartment.” The two took their complaint to City Inspection and the repairs were finally made on the last possible day. Like nearly all tenants in 3027, 3023, and 3019 Pleasant, they had signed a year lease which included off-street parking, but one month in QT Properties demanded monthly payment for parking. After an exchange of letters, Angela and Marisela took QT Properties to court, won their case, and received a parking sticker; but they were the only ones. Other residents chime in that they either paid the extra fee or now park blocks away.

     

    Ofelia Benitez goes next. After living in 3114 Pillsbury for about three months, there was a plumbing problem in Ofelia’s apartment. The floor flooded and it took management days to get to the apartment to stop the problem. After that, they told Ofelia she needed to move out for six days so they could fix it. She couldn’t afford to stay in another place, so she used fans to dry out the floor. The water caused the floor to warp, and there was an inch step between the kitchen and the bedroom. When Ofelia asked for repairs, Fernando told her he didn’t have the staff to make the repairs. One morning, Ofelia tripped on the warped wood and fell, hitting her head and injuring her foot. The management company did not reimburse her for any of her medical bills.

    As they told their stories, the renters discovered that QT Properties targeted the Spanish speaking community through vague ads in Spanish language publications. The ads resemble those in the back of City Pages: “room for rent, call this number.” Many of the renters work in the service industry, making low wages and struggling to support their families.

     

    Besides those terse ads, the renters only knew about their shadowy landlord through Fernando and a voice on the maintenance line answering machine telling them to call back. The renters did not even have a permanent address for the company that had so much power over their lives; QT Properties has used four different houses as an office in the last 9 months.

     

    Seeking a place to send a letter, Inquilinos Unidos found 24 separate Limited Liability Corporations mostly in Minnesota which are connected by Jason Quilling’s ownership, a building at 2960 Winnetka Ave., or both. Ten of these LLCs own at least one rental building, and another four are construction firms. According to Jen Arnold, one lawyer, a Lyndale resident, suggested that creating this many LLC’s might be meant to protect Quilling from litigation.  

    At the next meeting, organizers shared these discoveries with renters. An oversized styrofoam board covered in post-it-notes tried to illustrate the connections among Quilling’s small empire. Their suspicions were affirmed, the company, and the problem, was bigger than Fernando. As their situation became clear, the renters began to draft a demand letter for Fernando and Quilling:

      

    April 16th, 2015

    Dear Jason Quilling,

    We are here today to ask you to make some changes in the way your business (Q.T. Properties) is managed. We are tired of being disrespected in our housing.

    1. We want to be treated with respect.
      1. We want warnings of changes that affect us with two weeks notice, like parking, new leases or the location of your office.
      2. We want your staff to be respectful and not threatening towards us.
      3. We want your staff to be available to answer our calls. They should make appointments with us when it works in our schedules, so we don’t have to take days off of work. We want your staff to show up when they make appointments with us.
      4. We want to be notified with one week’s notice about when an exterminator will come so we can make arrangements to be there.
      5. We want you to ask permission before you enter our apartments--it’s the law!
    2. We want our apartments to be in good condition.
      1. We want your staff to respond to repair requests that we make within a few days, and to respond to emergencies immediately.
      2. We want you to hire maintenance staff who are certified to do the repairs they are making, and to hire a sufficient amount of staff to attend to requests in a timely manner.
      3. We want you to hire certified exterminators for pests so that the exterminations are successful.
    3. We want the option to sign 6 month or 1 year leases.
    4. We want alternative methods to paying rent and submitting maintenance requests online.
    5. We want written communications in Spanish and English from your office, including the lease.

    We think the first step in addressing these demands is to find a new manager in your office to replace Fernando. He continually offends us and is in charge of all the decisions that have made it difficult to work with your company.

    We anxiously await your response. You can get in communicate with us by sending a letter or email of response to Jennifer Arnold (jennifer@lyndale.org) at the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.

    Sincerely,

     

    Inquilinos Unidos por Justicia

     

     

    Armed with the letter and their stories, on April 16th the renters descended on 3112 Hennepin Ave, the most recent home of QT Properties. The business had its windows open but as soon as the crowds began chanting the panes were shuttered. The renters brought their children, who peered through the mail slot, yelling for Fernando. Their parents wanted to give Fernando a letter, they said. When no one answered, the renters took over the space, climbing the steps, turning the porch into a stage from which they told of injustices and threats. Pedestrians wandered past, curious about the ruckus in an otherwise congested commercial center. An Apple store and an Urban Outfitters are both just around the corner.

    Board Member Roberto de La Riva went around to the neighbors to inform them of who they were living next to. Ofelia, Angela, and Maria told their stories to cheers of support from other renters and a handful of men and women who had come to show solidarity. The media remained respectfully quiet, even as they interviewed renters. After the letter had been ceremoniously shoved through the mail slot, as the energy leveled out, a taxi zoomed to a stop in the middle of the street.

     

    Many of those present did not know who the man was, but those who lived at 3019 Pleasant Ave. recognized the Jimenez family. Juan ran to the front of the crowd while his wife paid the taxi driver. He mounted the porch and pulled a bill out of the envelope he was holding: $486 dollars for two towed cars. He had been one of those who paid the mid-lease parking fees, he had dutifully affixed the new stickers, so why had he been towed? “This happened because the protest is going on,” he told the crowd. Another renter had been abused, but thanks to Inquilinos Unidos, Juan Jimenez had a stage to speak from, and a crowd to listen.

     

    After the protest, QT staff met with city officials. While the meeting was closed to the public, QT clearly felt pressured. They have been posting letters on their tenants doors, insisting there is no problem. They urge direct communication with the management company, discourage renters from ‘inconsistencies in association,’ and warn of outside agitators who are just trying to stir up trouble. They have also door knocked twice, but it is clear that the renters know their power is in the bond they have created telling stories and depending on one another and they refuse to deal with the company alone.

     

    At the same time, the company has ignored demands to give tenants the latest parking permit (remember, free parking is promised in the lease). They have not rescinded their demand that rent be paid online. As a result, tenants distrust the communication with the Landlord and they fear if they express their concerns they will be retaliated against. Tenants say the management company is trying to isolate tenants instead of agreeing to meet with them altogether, as they have been asking for since before the protest.

     

    On May 6th a group of renters met at Lyndale Neighborhood Organization to meet meet with JoAnn Velde, Chief Inspector for Minneapolis Inspection Services - for buildings with 1 to 3 units. (The room was filled with a bounty of Mexican sweet bread that this writer disproportionately consumed, unable to shake off the nostalgia of eating, “pan de dulce” on the streets of his native Los Angeles.) Renters spoke with conviction as they carefully described the frustrations of being tenants of Jason Quilling. JoAnn was visibly moved, as a translator described the deplorable conditions renters had been living in. Most shockingly renters revealed that when Quilling took over 3027, 3023 and 3019 Pleasant he had essentially stolen their security deposits.

     

    When asked if this was the worst case JoAnn had ever seen she mentioned that Spiros Zorbalas had been the worst slumlord in recent memory. As they spoke, Jen Arnold wrote out their concerns on a poster board. The rough, sharpie-scrawled note makes a strong case for a New Slumlord of South Minneapolis:

     

    Building Negligence

    General Disrespect

    Needless Fines

    Drain plugged for two days, heat turned off overnight.

    Longfellow tenants receive an eviction letter at the same time.

    50 dollar a day fine for having AC.

    Longfellow building has heating problems.

    While canvassing renters spoke to a white women who mentioned that the property manager Fernando not only fixed the washing machine, but even returned money.

    Rent increase in an apartment from $625 to $700 within 6 months.

    Floors were flooded, and no emergency staff came for six days. After, were not repaired. Parent concerned since her child is asthmatic.

    No options for physical rent payments, tenants forced to pay via internet or move.

    The management doesn't seem to like fun. If you sit outside you get fined $60.

    Lots of bugs, maintenance just put down some paste. Mice and cockroaches. They said they would be killed by the venom in two minutes, but they were still there in 2 months.

    When they signed the lease, Fernando was nice, but when they called for repairs he was mean.

    Tenants will be fined $500 for opening their windows before April 15th, but there is no kitchen exhaust.

    Laundry machines don't work.

    They were told arbitrarily that they couldn't have a satellite dish. Many were given one week notice taped on the front door.

    Were told that it's illegal to play outside, $50 fine; management chained fences so youth couldn’t play between buildings.

     

    To listen to Jennifer and I talk about the organizing and what it all felt like and to here Jennifer's goofy Minnesota accent check out our podcast convo below! 

     

    Note: Here at chipsterlife we primarily blog while sometimes telling long form stories, reflections, features on artists and something close to actual journalism. In this piece I was motivated to investigate Jason Quilling and QT Properties by Jennifer Arnold, Lead Organizer at Lyndale Neighborhood Organization. Thus was borne Chipsterlife’s first investigative long form piece. I spent considerable time with Jennifer and the renters  to try and understand the complexities and story of the restless, predominantly latino tenants who had had enough. Jennifer graciously helped me pull together the essential components for this investigative piece. Furthermore, through an unnamed informant we were able to get Quilling’s personal cell phone number. After some phone calls and texts I was not able to get a comment on the record from him about his properties; he simply dismissively claimed that the accusations levied by the latino renters are made up and affirmed that the properties are well maintained.   

    -Filiberto Nolasco Gomez and Logan Carroll,
    with significant contributions from Jennifer Arnold
  • Comments on this post (4 comments)

    • holly shlensky says…

      I lived at this complex where I had reported many times of drug dealing in the parking lot before my brand new car was shot up due to an armed robbery at my next door neighbors house. The security fence was down I had made complaints about that several times. After my car window was blown out and a bullet remains in my dashboard, I asked for help being I was parked in an assigned spot and had reported many issues going on, nothing was ever done. I had asked for some reimbursement and spoke with the owner himself when I was denied any help. The only thing I was able to do was finally after 3 years of living here I was able to get out of my lease.

      on February 15, 2017

    • Paloma Santoyo says…

      I would really like to speak with you guys about Q T Properties. I was raised in 2611 Pleasant Ave S for twenty years of my life. When I convinced my mother to move out somewhere new, the biggest problem I faced was our deposit. No one single dime was given back. Even though I had lived their all my life, my mother, just a couple years more. I have been waiting for something like this to happen. I also know Jennifer Arnold because I was connected to her by our friend Nacho who also knew about Q T Properties back when I would speak to him about them. Jennifer Arnold gave the law firm I used to work for, an opportunity to speak about legal solutions for the undocumented,

      Anyways – I just want to speak about this because I saw the transition in my own building, and it really sucks that all my neighbors are getting fucked over because of their “status” or color of skin.

      on June 10, 2015

    • Paloma Santoyo says…

      I would really like to speak with you guys about Q T Properties. I was raised in 2611 Pleasant Ave S for twenty years of my life. When I convinced my mother to move out somewhere new, the biggest problem I faced was our deposit. No one single dime was given back. Even though I had lived their all my life, my mother, just a couple years more. I have been waiting for something like this to happen. I also know Jennifer Arnold because I was connected to her by our friend Nacho who also knew about Q T Properties back when I would speak to him about them. Jennifer Arnold gave the law firm I used to work for, an opportunity to speak about legal solutions for the undocumented,

      Anyways – I just want to speak about this because I saw the transition in my own building, and it really sucks that all my neighbors are getting fucked over because of their “status” or color of skin.

      Give me a call, if you like : 612-423-4827

      on June 10, 2015

    • Barbara Pinckney says…

      As a retired Minneapolis ESL teacher, I heard stories about some of these addresses over the years by my students. I can’t help financially, but I think that many people would like to join the protests, including me the next time one occurs. You need to get this story out there more especially to liberal political causes as many people involved with these would like to help (especially as there are no campaigns occurring now and they have time).

      on June 05, 2015

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