Multiple families say their apartment leases were terminated and they had to sleep on the floor, found graffiti outside their doors and received threats of police forcing them out, all because of a small cooking fire.
It all started on Jan. 21. Nuria Noor was cooking fries, when the oil caught fire. Water rained down from the sprinkler system in her apartment at the Lofts at Evergreen Knoll, owned by Velair Property Management.
Abdi Osman was in the apartment below and his sprinkler system also went off.
Abdi Muse was in the apartment below Osman’s. His sprinkler system didn’t go off, but water leaked from above.
“It’s just something that happened. It’s just an accident,” Noor said. “Accidents happen all the time.”
Some cabinets and the microwave were damaged by the flames. The walls and ceiling sustained some smoke damage before the fire was put out.
Faribault Fire Chief Dustin Dienst confirmed the fire was extinguished by the sprinklers. He said Noor’s apartment sustained minor damage from the fire, and “a total of 11 apartments were affected” by the water.
Osman and Muse were given permission to stay temporarily in other one-bedroom units. They said the manager told them they were not allowed to store their furniture on the premises, including in the temporary units, forcing their families to sleep on the floor.
Noor went to stay with family. She was told to remove her furniture, so she rented a storage unit for it. Many important documents, clothes, her TV, her couch and more were ruined by the water or lost in the move.
The following Tuesday, a number of letters from Velair Property Management were sent out to surrounding tenants, informing them of repairs taking place near their units.
All but three of these tenants were informed they could remain in their units while the repairs took place.
In their letters, dated Jan. 24, Noor, Osman and Muse were told their units were uninhabitable. For this reason, their leases were terminated, effective Jan. 22.
To establish the owner’s authority to do so, the letters cited the following clause in their leases:
“If the premises is destroyed or becomes totally uninhabitable or completely unfit for occupancy through the fault or neglect of occupant or a person under occupant’s direct or control, owner may end this lease.”
The “fault or neglect” citation was sent to all three tenants, not just the one who started the fire.
Attorney Brian Lipford, who is representing Osman and Muse, argues that a lease shouldn’t be terminated if the tenant did nothing wrong.
Faribault Building Inspector Josh Lawrenz said Velair told him the termination was to stop future rental payments, and that it was clearly articulated to the tenants. The tenants dispute this.
The local property manager and Velair Property Management did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
On Jan. 27, Osman and Muse were informed that Velair Property Management was “rescinding access” to the temporary units, effective 5 p.m. on the same day. Those letters read:
“Failure to remove yourself from (the temporary unit), will result in The Lofts of Evergreen Knoll having to contact local law enforcement to have you removed. Please note that you do not have legal rights to (the temporary unit).”
The property manager did call law enforcement, but the police didn’t remove them from the unit. The tenants hired Lipford, who advised them not to leave the temporary units. Osman and Muse didn’t leave even to go to work, getting them in trouble with their employers.
“We haven’t moved from the apartments, because we’re too scared that (they’re) going to kick us out,” Muse said. “(The regional property manager) is still trying to get us to leave from the unit. When (they) ask, we say ‘Where will we go?’ and (they) just keeps saying, ‘I don’t care; just go wherever you want. Just leave from that unit.’”
Since the fire started in Noor’s unit, Lipford said he cannot also represent her. He said he is looking for a volunteer attorney to represent Noor.
When Osman, Muse and Noor would attempt to speak with the property manager, they said they were told to write an email. However, they don’t speak or write English well (interviews with the Daily News were conducted via an interpreter).
The families relied on translation apps to understand the letters they were sent. The language barrier was a source for a lot of confusion, according to Dienst.
“In that whole situation, there was a lot of communication issues,” Dienst said. “Some of them thought they were being evicted. Building owners and managers were moving them around. … There was a lot of difficulties, beyond the fire, that came out of this whole incident that were mostly just communication issues.”
Attorney steps in
After Lipford spoke with Velair’s attorney, a third letter was sent to Osman and Muse.
It said they are allowed to stay in the units for six months, while repairs were taking place. They will also be allowed to move back to the original unit once it’s been fixed, according to Lipford.
Mike Vraa is the managing attorney at Homeline, a nonprofit Minnesota tenant advocacy group that provides free legal help for renters. He explained that, while it’s good that the temporary unit was offered back, it begs the question:
“What would’ve happened if a lawyer hadn’t gotten involved?” he said. “It took a lawyer to work on behalf of these tenants, and not everybody can afford that. Not everybody qualifies for free legal assistance. It’s a legit issue (that) only when a lawyer intervened, did they offer the temporary unit.”
Lawrenz said landlords don’t have an obligation to provide temporary housing but do have to provide the resources to help renters find their own.
Velair did post a few notices about emergency housing, but they were only written in English. Vraa explained that’s all that’s required in the current law, and it’s up to the tenants to use translation apps on any posted notices.
The writing on the floor
As for the repairs, the carpet in the hallway was pulled off the ground and several dehumidifiers were placed in the area.
On the bare second and third floors, four words were written with black spray paint: “Get lost. Do crime.”
Osman, Noor, Muse and multiple tenants of adjacent units said the writing wasn’t there when the carpet was first removed.
“All our kids have to see that,” Osman said. “It says ‘crime.’ There was no crime; it was just a fire.”
A new idea is taking off at Eclectic Alliance, allowing locals to teach their skills to fellow community members.
The mini mall, filled with dozens of booths rented out by local artists and entrepreneurs, is offering a chance for everyday people to offer a range of practical knowledge to one another and strengthen bonds within the community.
A couponing class will be taught by Maddie Shimek on Saturday, and a knitting class will be taught by Jenn Turner on Thursday. These two classes are just the beginning of Eclectic Alliance’s new project.
The classes will take place in the back corner of the store. There is a $40 fee to rent the spot for three hours and the sign-up sheet is online (t.ly/Qxao).
Laura Sterling had the idea sometime in November and is happy to finally get to see it take off. She said the first class — a painting class held by the Scrunchy Millennial business — generated business for vendors throughout the store as well.
“It really expands what we have to offer,” Sterling said. “It also is great for our sellers to be able to teach the crafts that they love to do.”
Among those sellers is Shimek, who finds deals with various “extreme couponing” methods. She started in early 2021, when a lot of TikToks popped up about the subject.
She uses a combination of print coupons, digital coupons, cash-back rebates and other means to, more often than not, save 50% or more. She enjoys it so much that she buys more than she needs, which is why she rented a booth at Eclectic Alliance to resell the items.
“It’s definitely a good way to save money, and with inflation, it’s definitely a good time for people to start couponing,” she said. “I get, all the time, people asking me if I’m going to teach a class or how to do it. So it’s just easier to bring everybody all together, instead of individually explaining to people how to do it.”
Once, her total was so low that the receipt-checker at Walmart thought she was stealing. Sometimes, she ends up with a total that’s in the negative.
Ultimately, she’s not nervous to teach others her secrets.
“I think it’s really cool,” she said about the opportunity. “Hopefully, we’ll bring people together, and people can learn new skills and make friends.”
Turner will be teaching a knitting class on Thursday, which she’s been doing for years. She hopes to get all spectrums of knitters together during her class.
“If you’re a beginning knitter, if you’re an experienced knitter, let’s just come together, have a good time and share our love of knitting,” she said. “I know it sounds cheesy … It’s just so fun when you take a ball of yarn and you create something beautiful out of it.”
As for the teaching aspect of it, she’s not nervous either.
“I love to just teach,” she said. “Hopefully people will leave with a sense of accomplishment. I just want people to come together and laugh and tell stories and have a good time. And if we knit that’s a bonus.”
Future classes, which haven’t been scheduled yet, include a cookie-decorating class and a class about repurposing vintage china.