Lack of affordable housing has tenants fighting to stay in problem landlord's properties

Patricia and Maurice Gant discuss their living situation.
Patricia Gant and her husband Maurice discuss their next move in the living room of their north Minneapolis home on Thursday. They don't feel their home is a safe place for their 22 grandchildren, one of whom lives with them.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Dozens of families on Minneapolis's north side recently got some really bad news from the city: They would have to move out by Feb. 28.

It's not because of anything they did. It's because of their landlord, Mahmood Khan. The city of Minneapolis revoked all 42 of his rental licenses for not maintaining his properties. Over the past decade, he's received thousands of citations from the city.

A recent court order will allow tenants to stay in their homes beyond the end of February, but the city still hopes Khan's tenants can find new places to live. Many of Khan's tenants say they want to move, too, but they can't find anywhere else to go. There's currently less than a 2 percent vacancy rate for affordable housing in Minneapolis, so landlords can be picky and turn away tenants with bad credit, criminal records or previous evictions.

Patricia Gant has lived in two of Khan's properties over the past year. She said it's hard for her to find a house because a landlord once tried to evict her for not paying rent. She said she was withholding rent until the landlord made repairs.

That's how she ended up living in one of Khan's properties. She pays a little more than $2,000 a month including utilities for her three-bedroom house on the north side. She said she has a leaky ceiling and bathtub. Her house is infested with rats, mice and cockroaches. Recently she fell down her stairs because she tripped on a loose nail. There was no hand railing to grab on to to stop her fall and she said she suffered a concussion.

The stairs Patricia Gant fell down.
A previously carpeted staircase sits just inside the entrance to Patricia Gant's north Minneapolis home on Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"It just bothers me because we're not trying to take nothing from nobody," Gant said. "I'm on Social Security. My husband struggles to go to work ... he's had two strokes. We're just survivors out here getting taken advantage of."

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Minneapolis has been trying to get Khan out of the rental business for years now. They revoked his rental licenses in 2016, which Khan appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They declined to hear his case last month, and with no appeals left, the city was able enforce its regulations.

But the city enforces its regulations by making people move out, and that means displacing dozens of tenants in a tight rental market.

The city has never displaced so many tenants at once, according to Kellie Jones, the director of administration and community engagement for the City of Minneapolis' regulatory division. Before it made the announcement it brought together several nonprofits and other government agencies to help Khan's tenants find new housing.

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority found additional federal funding to provide a monthly $500 subsidy for qualifying tenants over a year. Minneapolis agreed to inspect the properties to get the subsidy. And Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County said they would distribute the money and come up with additional funds for things like moving expenses.

Patricia Gant's Christmas decorations
Patricia Gant uses Christmas decorations to distract from the decrepit state of the north Minneapolis house she rents on Thursday. "There's about three rats in here and my puppy killed one," Gant said.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Xavier Matos, the housing stability program director at the Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County, is trying to find rental units for Khan's tenants. He said he's not having much luck, and it's not money that's the problem.

"To be fair to the tenants, some of them don't even need the financial assistance. The problem is there is no affordable housing. It's a real crisis," Matos said.

Gant and a group of Khan's tenants are suing Khan. Hennepin court referee Mark Labine appointed an administrator to take over control of Khan's 42 properties. The administrator would get a temporary rental permit, collect rents and make repairs to bring the houses up to code. It also allows tenants to stay in their homes, for now.

"The city is very pleased with the outcome of the court's decision to appoint an administrator. It provides everybody with a little more breathing room," Jones said. "We have less fear of tenants being evicted before the 28th (and) we have time to make sure everybody gets housed appropriately."

Khan did not respond to multiple requests for comment.