Thursday, January 20, 2011

Coffee with Paul Bertelson

Post and stock photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Shortly after my first post about a property in poor condition formerly owned by Paul Bertelson, he called me up and asked if we could meet for coffee to talk things over.  I immediately agreed.  My goal in writing about problem properties and/or their owners is to change whether problems of crime or blight occur at these properties.  If that can happen through a constructive dialogue with landlords, so much the better.  And if not, then NoMi neighbors and bloggers shouldn't pull any punches about the extent of any problems we're seeing.

With that in mind, Paul and I first talked about...

...his concern that even though issues had been brought up on this blog and an old JNS post, nobody had contacted him directly.  That concern is understandable, but Bertelson wasn't familiar with the strategies Paul Koenig once employed.  Koenig would have neighbors call him about problems, take a long time to respond, and then when things finally became unbearable, neighbors would call various city departments in exasperation.  However, despite an ongoing problem for months or over a year or more, if nobody had called 311, 911, or any other appropriate entity at the city, there was no track record of this ever being an issue in need of resolution.

To make matters worse, Koenig also reportedly shifted his problem tenants around.  Thank goodness for the hard-nosed residents over on Hillside Avenue who told him this was unacceptable and brought the practice to the attention of city police and inspections.

So Bertelson needed to understand that we've been burned in the past and because of that, many neighbors don't see the landlord as a responsive first call.  My advice to anyone reading this:  don't hesitate to call the landlord or property owner to inform them of problems occurring on their block or at their houses.  But appropriate calls should also be made to 311 so that if the problems continue unabated, we have documented a pattern of behavior that allows for swift enforcement actions.

Other commenters here and on JNS have accused Bertelson of somehow "hiding behind" his Christianity through involvement with his LLC Mission Inn Incorporated, as well as with Urban Homeworks and Youthworks.  In talking to him, I have to say that he didn't come across as someone who uses such things as a smokescreen of any kind.  His desire to help others seems genuine, and he tries to reach out to reach out to people in difficult situations and give them housing.

Growing up in the Lutheran church myself, and being a bishop's son, I could go toe-to-toe with him all day bout Biblical passages where Jesus' followers are instructed to reach out to the poor, the homeless, and those who society has rejected.  So I can easily understand where he's coming from in his approach to rental housing for those in deep need.  However, I stated that if in so doing, he is careless to the point where his tenants either damage houses or act in such a way that neighbors are put at risk, then he's really failing in the implementation of his Christian faith.  He agreed.

Bertelson gave me his phone number and email address and asked that he be contacted by neighbors near his properties if there are any problems.  He agreed to give a list of those properties so that we know what to look out for, and he committed to coming to the housing, block club, or crime/safety meetings of neighborhood groups to address any potential concerns.  He confirmed his email address as

I did get his phone number, but the notebook where that is written down is currently in my crumpled shell of a former car.  (I was in an accident, not at fault, car is totaled, I'm okay, and all the other details are being worked out.)  I'll post that number once I track it down again.  In the meantime, let's make Bertelson aware of any issues at his properties, but hopefully in a way that fosters a constructive dialogue.


  1. It is excellent that you were able to work this out with him. Now that it's arranged, let's notify him in a polite, civil, and constructive manner. Let's not get all psycho JohnnyNorthside on him now that he has been kind enough to provide his phone and email.
    He is clearly willing to work with reasonable, rational people (like Jeff) to resolve problems. So let's not abuse his invitation by calling him every time one of his renters flicks a cigarette butt on the ground. If there is a real problem, give the man a call and let him resolve it. If it's not taken care of then call 311. But let's not send city inspectors on wasted trips for a problem that was corrected the day before. If he is willing to work with you, give him the chance. It is not fair or reasonable to call him about a problem, and 311 at the same time. What's the purpose of having an inspector cite him for a problem he tells you he will correct? What I'm saying is give him a chance to correct the problem before you tattle on him. Be fair and reasonable, and he will be too.

  2. Anon 12:09, watch the language on how you refer to JNS. I have a much lower threshold for my comment policy in that regard than other NoMi blogs.

    In general, I agree with much of your other content. If a landlord is willing to be responsive to neighborhood concerns, the preferred way to deal with that would be through notifying him or her directly, and not consuming city resources at all. However, there are several circumstances where I'd do the simultaneous call to 311/911.

    1. If the problem is ongoing. If I've called and called and nothing changes, I'll do what I can to put the issue and landlord on the radar screens of the appropriate city departments.

    2. If the landlord has major issues. Mahmood Khan, for instance, has owned numerous properties where bad things have gone down, and many of those houses are in serious disrepair. Even if he and I developed a similar relationship to what happened with Bertelson, he'd be on a VERY short leash due to his track record.

    3. If there is the possibility of criminal activity such as drug dealing or prostitution. There is a Bertelson property a few houses to the south of me. Earlier this summer, I saw activity that looked like drug dealing. Even if I'd had his contact info back then, I still would have called either 911 or the 4th Precinct as well. (And the tenants from that house are no longer there, and the activity has seemed to stop, by the way.)

    Especially on that last one, it's really up to the neighbors experiencing the problems with a particular landlord as to whether they feel comfortable with just a personal phone call. I'm just putting my recommendations out there.

  3. Actions speak louder than words-

    It's not the neighborhoods job to babysit his income properties regardless of his religious affiliations or sentiments of goodwill.

    911 and 411 are appropriate remedies to illegal and nuisance behaviors on properties he owns and is responsible for.

    I for one, will never waist my time calling a landlord as this equates to a "free pass" opportunity to circumvent my legal rights to a quite, crime free environment instead of a dumping ground where poverty pimps take advantage of the system.

    For far too long NoMi has looked the other way in deference to the "Poor". But economics has nothing to do with the disrespectful and criminal behaviors we are addressing. How about all the other poor that are impacted by these behaviors?

    Being a good landlord is hard business especially if you choose to market sub-standard homes to risky tenants.

    If Paul can't come to gripes with this then maybe he needs to find a different venue to satisfy his personal religious beliefs. Or perhaps he could buy properties in Minnetonka, Maple Grove, or Edina and see if they will be more understanding.

  4. That's great that Paul is a nice/genuine guy, but I don't think that gives him a pass on having and maintaining crappy rental property. A google search shows him as the president and founder of Youthworks. I gotta believe he's got sufficient funds to keep up these properties beyond just the bare minimum.

  5. With five people dead in one of his properties, maybe it's time for coffee again to ask this churchy slumlord WTF.


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