HavenBrook tenants submit repair requests to landlord’s office
Tenants of HavenBrook Homes, one of Minnesota’s largest private landlords, held a rally outside the property management office in New Brighton on Friday, where they attempted to meet with local company staff.
Tenants marched into the office of Progress Residential, HavenBrook’s new property management company, and demanded to speak to management and deliver a petition signed by 60 tenants.
The petition calls on HavenBrook to freeze rents, compensate tenants, pay moving costs for tenants who need to move, and offer tenants first right to purchase if they sell their portfolio.
Tenants did not make it past the front atrium, where a staff member told them through a window that she was the only person available to speak with the group.
HavenBrook resident Jimmy Harris started reading the petition to her but she left after a few sentences.
“I need help,” Harris shouted at her, before throwing the petition through a hole in the window.
The tenants then pasted pictures of their homes – with holes in the walls, damaged siding, leaking pipes – on the front of office windows and staged a rally where they were joined by activists and members of the union.
The protest was the latest effort by tenants, with support from tenant advocacy group Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia (United Renters for Justice), to pressure HavenBrook to make repairs. Earlier this year, some families began withholding rent and putting it into escrow.
More broadly, tenants and activists hope to draw attention to what they say is a growing scourge of private equity firms gobbling up single-family homes and charging high rents just to let properties fall into disrepair.
A spokesperson for a New York-based public relations firm released a statement on behalf of HavenBrook saying the company had quadrupled its local maintenance teams and transferred HavenBrook’s property management to another national company called Progress Residential.
“Throughout these transitions, our commitment has remained unwavering: we strive to ensure that the residents we serve have access to high-quality affordable housing and are fully supported by consistent, reliable and attentive service,” says the press release.
A recent Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis study found that the share of investor-owned properties in the Twin Cities metro area has more than doubled over the past 15 years, from 1.8% to 4.1%.
HavenBrook Homes is owned by Pretium Partners, a New York-based hedge fund that controls some 70,000 rental properties across the country, including more than 600 single-family homes in the Twin Cities metro area.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit against HavenBrook for failing to maintain his properties. Ellison alleges that lack of maintenance is part of the company’s business model, pointing to Pretium’s claims that profits from its single-family rental business rival those of apartments, which are generally more profitable.
Brianna Lofton says the problems with her north Minneapolis home started almost immediately after she moved in just over two years ago. The bathroom sink was clogged and when someone flushed the toilet there was a leak in the basement.
HavenBrook sent someone to repair the leak, which returned a few weeks later, Lofton said.
The leak led to mold, Lofton says, which HavenBrook let get so bad that her throat swelled up and her toddler developed a rash that wouldn’t go away. Her emails and calls to HavenBrook went nowhere as the mold made them sicker, leaving her feeling helpless.
“I cried a lot,” Lofton said.
After about three months, Lofton evacuated with his four daughters to a hotel, which HavenBrook paid for while the company hired contractors to fix mold in the basement. Since then, her throat and her youngest daughter’s rash have cleared up, although Lofton notes that the contractors never rebuilt the walls they knocked down to fight the mold.
Mold wasn’t the only problem. Last winter, the heat died down, leaving them to rely on space heaters for two winter months, Lofton said, pointing to a $350 faux chimney heater in his living room.
There is also peeling paint around the house which Lofton says contains lead, given the age of the house and the disclosure she received from HavenBrook, despite not having it. not tested.
She said Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia, the tenant advocacy group, helped her and her neighbors organize to get the company’s attention.
“That’s when we started getting a response,” Lofton said.
The company began moving tenants to other properties. Lofton accepted an offer from the company to move to another HavenBrook house in Robbinsdale after telling him the house had been selected for renovation.
The Twin Cities metro has been plagued by a shortage of affordable rental housing, which Havenbrook tenants say leaves them feeling trapped.
But tenants say HavenBrook’s rents aren’t exactly cheap either. Lofton says she pays $1,445 a month for rent plus a few hundred extra dollars for utilities. She also has to pay $40 a week to have the lawn mowed since she doesn’t own a mower.
“The rent is too high,” Lofton said. “And tenants shouldn’t have to leave. HavenBrook should just sort things out.