Unaffordable Housing: Minimum Wage Won’t Put a Roof Over Your Head

Any list of basic necessities includes shelter—a roof over your head. But roofs, it turns out, are really expensive. In 2017, the federal minimum wage remains just $7.25/hour, although some states have gone as high as $11.50/hour. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s 2017 Out of Reach report, you’ll need to put in at least 51 hours at minimum wage in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment in South Dakota, the cheapest state.

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When Debt Collectors Call About the Rent

This post originally appeared on ConsumerLawyer.MN with the title “Debt Collector Calls About Rental Debt.”

Debt collectors and landlords go together like peanut butter and jelly. When a landlord has a dispute over rental debt or damage to a rental property, a landlord will frequently turn to a debt collector.

Many times, the debt collector either misrepresents the amount of the debt or what can happen if you don’t pay it. If you have been contacted by a debt collector about rental debt, here is what you need to know.

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Don’t Rent Computers

Sitting in a waiting room this morning, I overheard one of the clerks telling the other about the “great” new laptop she just rented. “It came with a Kenneth Cole laptop bag!” She said she decided to rent because she “couldn’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for a new laptop.” I don’t think she even tried shopping for a computer, though, because it sounded like she rented a laptop that retails for about $400.

Don’t rent computers. Computers are cheap. You can get a good-quality Dell laptop for just under $600. Or, if you just want a desktop, Dell has a great all-in-one for just under $750. You don’t even need to pay that much, though. I’m writing this post on a Dell Inspiron that retails for about $300 today.

The only exception is if you need extremely high-powered hardware that is always up-to-date. But if that is your need, you are probably already leasing through a reputable company.

Center Point Energy shuts off heat in zero-degree weather

Tenants in an 11-unit apartment building in Minneapolis lost heat last Thursday. Happy Holidays from Center Point Energy! Of course, Center Point only shut off the heat because the landlord (Donald Christopher according to Hennepin County Property Records) had more than $10,000 in outstanding bills.

The Cold Weather Rule in Minnesota can prevent utility shut-offs during the winter months, but the bill-payer must contact the utility to ask for protection and arrange a payment plan. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has an excellent FAQ and a brochure (PDF) on the Cold Weather Rule.

In a case like this, where the landlord was supposed to be paying the bill, tenants can band together to take over the utility bill and deduct utility payments from their rent. In this case, that would be a hefty bill, but a group of tenants can take advantage of the Cold Weather Rule to arrange a payment plan and keep the heat on.

The Cold Weather Rule doesn’t really work | City Pages Blotter

(photo: Wikimedia Commons)

How to hold onto your security deposit

Landlords routinely ask for a security deposit–usually one month’s rent–when renting. The security (or damage) deposit is a way for the landlord to recover for unusual damage. Holes in the wall, for example, or stains in the carpet. It is not a way for a landlord to fix damage that is the result of ordinary wear and tear.

When you move out, the landlord must return the security deposit, plus interest, but he or she can deduct anything he or she actually spends to repair damage.

But it seems like some landlords cannot bear to give back the security deposit, and so they come up with all kinds of bogus charges. The secret to holding onto your security deposit is being able to prove you left things in good order. The only way to do this is by carefully documenting the condition before you move in and after you leave.

Here is how.

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“Renting and the Law” column in the Star Tribune

I just ran across Kelly Klein’s “Renting and the Law” column at the Star Tribune.

Klein does a good job of sitting on the fence and offering a fairly neutral evaluation of landlord-tenant issues.

In her December 13th column, Klein discussed the importance of communication and written agreements (and side agreements). In her December 21st column, she discussed what happens when a rental property is sold, “ordinary wear and tear,” and tenant history reports.

How to avoid losing your security deposit

[Consumerist crosspost]

Assuming you haven’t wrecked the place, of course. Assuming you have taken good care of your apartment:

  • Bring a camera or camcorder with you for your move-in walkthrough. Try to capture the condition of the entire apartment, empty. Put this somewhere safe.
  • When you leave, clean up carefully. Plug holes, clean the bathroom, etc. You may want to hire a cleaning service yourself, as many landlords will do that, anyway, and charge you for it.
  • After you have cleared out your stuff and cleaned up, get out your camera again. Do a thorough walkthrough.
  • Once you are out, send your landlord a letter telling him or her exactly what you did to clear out the apartment, especially if you hired a cleaning service, and give your landlord the address where you want your security deposit sent.

If you do all this and your landlord retains your security deposit, anyway, take them to conciliation court. You have great evidence. If you return the unit to the landlord in the condition it was in when you moved in, minus normal wear and tear, your landlord should not be able to retain your security deposit.

The Problems with Inclusionary Housing

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a feature last Friday on the surprises that may be in store for a new homeowner in an “inclusionary housing” unit. Inclusionary housing is a popular form of affordable housing that is designed to integrate affordable housing into “regular” housing. For example, if a builder puts in a 10-unit apartment building, one or two of those units would be subsidized as affordable housing.

Of course, this means that, while a tenant or owner may pay less for rent or a mortgage than the rest of the building, they share the rest of the fees. Overall, we think inclusionary housing schemes are positive, but as this article shows, there may be a few surprises, and tenants and owners need to be prepared.

Worst Landlord in Minnesota?

Tonight I caught a Fox investigative report on Jim Eischens, owner of Twin Cities Housing & Realty, LLC, who sounds like he may be one of the worst landlords in Minnesota. (Although we have reservations about that, since we are currently suing two landlords who may be far worse.)

Eischens apparently owns about 80 properties in the Twin Cities, mostly in student neighborhoods. He has had nearly 1,500 code violations in the last ten years. His attorney, Patrick Burns, was remarkably evasive, and pled ignorance at every opportunity. But we suppose there isn’t much else he could do, since the proof is a matter of public record.

More after the jump.

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Cleaning Up Maryland’s Eviction Mess

I’m having fun searching for “landlord” on YouTube lately. There are a ton of great videos of terrible landlords. Cameras are a terrific tool to use in a landlord-tenant dispute.

This video, however, shows what happens when a liberal eviction law is in place. In Maryland, a landlord may evict a tenant for even one day of late rent. Minnesota, thankfully, is not quite so strict, and requires notice, at least, before an eviction can be filed.