Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Khan's Property Lives to Blight Another Day

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman, photo originally appeared on a Johnny Northside blog post about phone books.

Mahmood Khan's property at 2222 4th St N has, for the time being, taken a step back from demolition.  John Hoff and I have covered the house's course quite extensively, from when Annshalike Hamilton was found murdered there, to its path towards possible demolition. (more links found here, here, here, and here)

The ruling that pulls 2222 4th back from the brink only gives it a temporary reprieve.  The document can be found here, and from a policy wonk standpoint, it is quite fascinating.  I'm reminded of a vignette in the book "The Year of Living Biblically." Two people are having a very polarizing argument, and go to their rabbi to help resolve their conflict.  After listening carefully to each side, the rabbi turns to the respective parties, saying, "You are right AND you are right."  Another friend witnessing the discussion said, "Wait a minute, they can't BOTH be right," to which the rabbi responds, "And you are also right."

The court ruling is like that, except each side tends to get at least a little bit wrong.  We'll start with Khan, who of course...

...is a noted slumlord primarily in north Minneapolis (although a murder suspect was also arrested at his apartment complex in Northeast).  Neighborhood groups have complained about his tenants dealing drugs from a property, and I've done several photo tours of various landlords.  At the time I looked at Khan's properties, they were easily in the worst shape - and that's no small feat.  So while Khan's rights should be upheld just like anyone's, neither this court nor the city council should give him any slack.

According to the city staff findings, Khan "has not restored the property to almost new, and has elected to install mismatched windows, used carpeting, and at least two different colors of styles of siding.  In addition, interior walls have been poorly finished, including badly taped sheetrock, sprayed drywall compound to cover imperfections, and  poorly installed trim boards."

Classy.

2222 4th St N, the property was in an extreme state of disrepair for an extended period of time.  It was during that time that the city appropriately issued an order to have the structure demolished.  Khan entered into a restoration agreement and did not fully comply with the terms and timing of that agreement.  Part of the understanding of that agreement was that even 99% compliance was not sufficient to avoid demolition.

It would be absurd to, hypothetically, demolish the house if it was missing proper landscaping, so clearly there would be some degree of interpretation there.  The court interpreted both the ordinance and the agreement in such a way as to delay demolition for the time being.  The judge's findings are based on her statement that Minneapolis failed to establish that the property was a nuisance at the time that demolition was ordered (the second time, after Khan failed to comply with the restoration agreement).

On the one hand, I have to say that reading those findings, I agree with the judge - almost.  Her ruling is based on a strict interpretation of Minneapolis nuisance ordinances, that "(1) the doors, windows, and other openings are boarded up, (2) the values of neighborhood properties have diminished as a result of the deterioration of the subject building, and (3) the cost of rehabilitation is not justified when compared to the after rehabilitation resale value."  And the judge ruled that the city failed to make a claim that the property was a nuisance under those definitions at the point when the most recent order to demolish was issued.

(One problem with item #3:  Given the abysmally low property values in parts of north Minneapolis, especially Hawthorne, we may want to reconsider whether this is an appropriate way to determine whether a property is a nuisance or whether it ought to be saved or demolished.)

On the other hand, the pending demolition is merely the result of Khan's failure to abide by the terms of the restoration agreement.  One could quite legitimately claim that the property was already considered a nuisance, and Khan failed to correct that status in the time set forth for restoration.  Wouldn't it be incumbent upon Khan to fully abate the original nuisance status?  Furthermore, this would appear to set a rather low bar for reversing an order to demolish.  Could it be possible for an owner to remove boards from openings, secure the property, and do just enough repairs to keep the backhoe of doom at bay?

Thankfully, this ruling does not set a legal precedent around such matters, but it does hamper the city's ability to enforce demolition if a restoration agreement is not fulfilled.  There appears to be too much gray area here.

In a final twist of irony, Khan's track record of renting to problem tenants is not respectable.  There is a decent chance that he could be successful in fully removing the legal definition of a "nuisance," only to rent to a series of problem tenants, thus creating what many in the neighborhood would consider a nuisance property.

The one thing this court order does NOT do, however, is save the house from demolition long-term.  The judge merely states that the city may not demolish without first establishing that the property in its current condition is indeed a nuisance.  The city could go back, review their ordinances and the condition of 2222 4th St N, and then determine a nuisance status.  At that point, they could proceed with a demolition, although Khan would likely still challenge it in court.

This whole process makes one wish that Khan was this aggressive in maintaining all of his properties instead of just one.

8 comments:

  1. In a way Judge Halbrooks is right. But only because the goal of the lawsuit was not to penalize Khan for his "transgressions" but to destroy the property based on code compliance. The Judge did not want this decision coming back on appeal at additional cost to the public.

    The nature of this lawsuit is blatantly lenient considering Khans history but the Nuisance Property Laws are not aimed at the structures.

    They are intended to force the owners to uphold their responsibilities to the community and to remedy or compensate the community for maintaining or permitting a condition that unreasonably annoys, injures, or endangers the safety, health, morals, or repose of any considerable number of members of the public.

    - gambling or gambling-related activity
    - unlicensed sales of alcoholic beverages
    - unlawful furnishing of alcoholic beverages to a person under age 21
    - maintaining or permitting a condition that unreasonably annoys, injures, or endangers
    the safety, health, morals, or repose of any considerable number of members of the
    public
    - engaging in any other activity declared by law to be a public nuisance.
    - the violation by any commercial enterprise of a local nuisance ordinance or regulation.
    - permitting real property to be used to maintain a public nuisance, or renting the
    property knowing it will be used to maintain a public nuisance, by whoever maintains
    control of the property.
    - a criminal gang that continuously or regularly engages in gang activity.
    - the continuous or regular use of a place by a lessee or tenant to engage in or allow
    gang activity, if the gang activity is knowingly permitted by the owner or other
    person responsible for maintaining that particular place.
    - a building or other property that is “tagged” with graffiti can cause damage and may be considered an eyesore by neighbors
    and members of the public.

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CBYQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hennepinattorney.org%2FCommunityProsecution%2FNuisanceLaw%2Ftabid%2F207%2FDefault.aspx&rct=j&q=mn%20Nuisance%20laws&ei=S2cbTdTfBY-jnQf46f3-DQ&usg=AFQjCNFknon8Mj0ATKYHJop0hVli9FlB4w&sig2=oC4uswbwrFX-n4lax1EA1w&cad=rja

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&sqi=2&ved=0CB8QFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.house.leg.state.mn.us%2Fhrd%2Fpubs%2Fnuislaws.pdf&rct=j&q=mn%20Nuisance%20laws&ei=S2cbTdTfBY-jnQf46f3-DQ&usg=AFQjCNEiFeem0_f8EJ5WWXCR1Sfjz85hPQ&sig2=n8mbcVgSBcPR-U2oyzOlow&cad=rja

    The problem is that we have a political environment where Judges and Prosecutors who are not impacted by the conditions these properties create making the decisions based on suburban ideals.

    But certainly prosecutors could find other complaints and remedies pertaining to this property that would have been more equitable to the community and hit Khan where it really counts - his pocketbook.

    This is a matter of continued public pressure on the administrative branches of the City by local communities working together to educate lawmakers on the importance of ridding our neighborhoods of predatory landlords and nuisance behaviors.

    I would encourage local neighbors to document, document, document... because khan's habits run deep and they will get another chance.

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  2. Do you have any more pictures? That house (one picture) looks pretty good compared to most houses up North!

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  3. You are off base here. This court case was about one single property. The guy took a POS house and improved it. Maybe not to the standards you like, but he did improve the property to livable standards. None of his other properties matter in this case.
    The city was wrong. Period.
    If they disagree, they can appeal.
    Hopefully, Kahn won't sue the city (and others) for damages and legal fees, adding insult to injury.

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  4. @Anon 11:19, I believe there are two different uses of the word "nuisance" here. In the court case that is the subject of this article, "nuisance" seems to refer only to the structural conditions of the property and whether state or local ordinances can be used to enforce its demolition. The links you posted, while very helpful and informative, refer to behaviors that occur at a property, which then create a public nuisance.

    The irony, of course, is that if the property does not meet the definition of a nuisance NOW, it likely will AFTER Khan gets it occupied.

    @Anon 11:59, ask and you shall receive, in tonight's blog post.

    @Anon 12:39, yes the case was about one single property, and most of this post reflects that. However, Khan owns scores of properties across north Minneapolis, many of which are run-down and/or occupied by nuisance tenants. The court ruling cannot and should not take that into account, but the court of public opinion can and should.

    On that note, one of my favorite parts of the ruling can be found at the top of page 9. "Relator (Khan) argues...that the committee was improperly influenced by extra-record influence." By that, I'm sure Khan refers to posts on Johnny Northside, and that's a point of pride for John and me. There's no doubt that NoMi bloggers want to influence decisions made in our community, and if city council members are influenced by our blogging, that's the goal.

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  5. In a civil trial "extra-record evidence" refers to information that is not on the record of the current case, but is similar in nature. In criminal trials you typically hear it called "Spriegl evidence" which refers to evidence of prior and similar bad acts, which may or may not be admissible.
    I believe the extra-record evidence Kahn mentions refers to the committee's knowledge of code compliance/nuisance issues relating to other Kahn properties, and not in reference to Nomi bloggers. While members of the committee may read the blogs (which I doubt), they can only use information that is part of the official record.

    I believe what Kahn is stating is that the committee based their decision, in part, on the fact that they feel he is a slumlord. They voted with their emotions, rather than on the facts, and the COA sort of bitch slapped them back to reality in a strongly worded opinion saying the committee acted in an arbitrary manner. That's grounds enough for a lawsuit.
    Had the COA ruled that the committee's decisions were influenced using the extra-record evidence, it would have established grounds for some serious punitive damages as it would have showed that the committee was punishing Kahn for transgressions not related to this single property issue.

    You really need to learn how decisions are made within city hall. If you think blogging, and speaking at a hearings is what council members base their decisions on, think again.
    Politics...it's 99% politics.
    .

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  6. Hawk, I disagree regarding the use of the term "Nuisance".

    Nuisance Laws are clearly defined in the attached link. Please read them.

    What this lawsuit (and the misuse of the term nuisance) was applied towards were Housing Code Violations at this address for the purpose of demoing the structure. Those violations had since been remedied to the satisfaction of Housing Inspectors (even though the place may still be a hellish eyesore).

    That is the reason the Judge couldn't find just cause in issuing a demolition order. Khan had the documentation from CPED saying that all code violations had been satisfied and would have sued for far more than the structure is worth.

    This lawsuit is the equivalent of trying to slay a giant by cutting off a toe. This property is meaningless to Khan in the scope of his rental empire, no matter how gratifying it may be to the adjacent neighbors. If we want to put an end to Slumlords like Khan - we have to go for the jugular and stop the flow of assets by applying the laws correctly.

    If the County Attorney would have applied the laws correctly against Khan for his lack of responsibility towards the well being of the neighbors and the community, Khan may have been fined severely and lost his rental license at this location. The home would then have been required to be classified as a vacant structure(with a $6000 fee) or be sold off as a homesteaded property(of course Khan could also have chosen to personally homestead the property-lol!). The law further allows the court the option to revoke ALL his rental licenses within the community as a remedy for a pattern of Nuisance Behaviors at his properties.

    Keep up the good work so our courts understand the depth of public angst regarding slum lord behaviors.

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  7. You folks keep ranting and ranting but still I never ever see any concrete solutions offered! I am a broker and there are still more than 10 properties a week that are foreclosed and vacant and coming on the market in North Mpls for between 25K and 35K and will be for at least the next 2 years. What is the answer to this predicument???

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  8. @Kyle: Here's an example of NoMi blogging efforts having an influence. A fellow Hawthorne resident reported to me that she had been inside 2222 4th, and claimed the only way to get from the first floor to the second was to go outside and enter through a different door.

    That may or may not have been true at the time she was inside the property. However, in a subsequent hearing at city hall, CM Samuels asked about this issue specifically. He was told both that this was not the case when inspectors went through, and also that the question was based on items that were not proper to take into consideration at that time.

    So yes, the blogging does have an impact. Although seeing as how Hallbrooks did not go into detail in her ruling, we won't know which type of extra-record evidence Khan was referring to.

    @Anon 10:34, I'm not seeing an attached link. Could you provide one? Also, CPED would not be the entity within the city to either verify that code violations were satisfied or present such verification to Khan or the court. That would likely be either inspections or problem properties. If there were an emergency board-up, the MPD could be involved, and now the fire department handles boarding. But CPED would only be involved if there were an attempt to acquire.

    The other area where I want to correct you is the specific condition. As of this writing, the city has the place classified as boarded/vacant.

    I do agree with you though, that Khan clearly hasn't invested enough money into this place for its demolition to have any meaningful impact on his slumpire. That doesn't change whether it's worthy of demolition, but we shouldn't have any illusions about the impact demolition might have.

    @Anon 12:25 There's been at least one concrete solution offered for 2222 4th: enforce the city ordinances and Khan's failure to abide by them and complete the restoration agreement. Demolish the property.

    Another solution that's been bandied about on NoMi blogs a while back is receivership. That's a tool Minneapolis does not yet have in its toolbox. But other cities have such a tool, where they essentially take over a property, bring it up to code, and assess the owner. If assessments aren't paid, the property is forfeited to the city.

    In another instance across town, a receivership could have saved the Pauline Fjelde house that was demolished last Christmas. That owner neglected or perhaps even actively pushed the place towards demolition. Enforcement of city ordinances in that case led the fate of that house to the exact conclusion the owner wanted, but there was no other mechanism the city had to employ.

    Similarly, if we wanted to save this property or others like it, get them out of the hands of slumlords, and properly rehab them, then maybe we don't have everything we need at our disposal right now and new methods should be examined.

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