The Moral of the Story (based on Charlie Disney’s Experiences)


Inner-city landlords are severely criticized and punished for failing to screen their tenants properly so that criminally inclined tenants or their friends invade certain neighborhoods. What are we supposed to do? Landlord Bob Anderson has asked Minneapolis Council President Jackie Cherryhomes two questions:

(1) What screening guidelines should landlords use?

(2) Where should the people live whom we are expected to reject?

Anderson has written four letters to Cherryhomes, also signed by others, asking these questions. Her response has been to ignore all four letters. I, Charlie Disney, asked Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton those two questions at a public meeting on December 30, 1996. She listened in silence and then walked off the podium. I asked Jackie Cherryhomes the same questions at a City Council meeting in April. The Council President looked around the room and then stared at her feet, without giving an answer. I repeated the same questions and again Cherryhomes stared at her feet.

The moral of the story: It’s clear that Jackie Cherryhomes and Sharon Sayles Belton, the city’s two highest elected officials, either have no answer or are unwilling to give an answer to two important questions at the core of discussions relating to landlords and crime. Their minions in SAFE tell us repeatedly that we must screen apartment applicants to avoid having troublesome tenants but they refuse to tell us or even suggest what steps we might take for effective screening. They have absolutely no idea what to do about the many people in the city who are unfit to rent apartments. The city’s top elected officials are derelict in their duty.


The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority is supposed to provide “the housing of last resort” for people who want to rent housing in the city. Yet, according to some sources, this agency turns down 91% of applicants for housing. This statistic is held up to private-sector landlords as an indication of how much more carefully Public Housing screens applicants for apartments than private landlords do. Lisa Kruger, second in command at the Whittier Alliance, once told me that this organization turned down fourteen applicants for each one accepted.

The moral of the story: Clearly the heavily subsidized Public Housing agency (and certain housing nonprofits) are attempting to skim the cream off the crop of prospective tenants and leave the bad tenants for the private sector. That being the case, why do we provide subsidies for public housing? Private-sector landlords compete without subsidy. They are also expected to do the heavy lifting when it comes to renting to the less desirable tenants. This is unfair.


Government officials have supposedly developed programs to expedite removal of drug dealers and other undesirable tenants from privately owned properties. They claim the troublemakers can be removed in a few days. That has not been my experience. Let me cite two situations.

(1) I own a duplex at 2519 13th Avenue South in Minneapolis. The original tenant was a law-abiding, hard-working man. Unfortunately, he turned over the rented units to his children. After six months, the children began drug dealing and also packed guns. I lobbied the SAFE officer to intervene with their “knock and talk” program. I invited the Third Precinct’s crack team to do a drug bust. This took several weeks to arrange.

Meanwhile, I held discussions with the original tenants to see if something could be done. He refused to believe that his children were engaging in illegal activities. On or about March 20, 1997, I gave this man a verbal notice that his month-to-month lease would not be renewed. A week later, I sent the man a written letter to the same effect. In fact, I offered the man $1,000 if he would simply vacate the rented units and be gone in a few days. The tenant refused, saying that his children had done nothing wrong.

At my invitation, the crack team raided the duplex on April 17, 1997. They found drugs and did a drug buy. I then went to Andrew LeFevour, assistant Hennepin County Attorney, to initiate proceedings to evict the tenant under the nuisance law. The county filed a motion for an unlawful detainer on April 18th. I did not have to pay the $132 filing fee. (Note: The fee to file a motion in court to evict a tenant has since been raised to $252.) But the case will not be heard until April 29th.

In the meanwhile, one of the young men who was arrested in the drug bust was released from jail. He promptly returned to my duplex and resumed his drug-dealing activities. Fortunately for me, this man beat up Teresa, daughter of the original tenant, who was his former girl friend. Another ex-boyfriend of Teresa came by my place and beat him up. The drug dealing tenant left and has not since returned. That got the job done, not the legal steps taken.

(2) A similar situation existed two years ago at a duplex across the street. This duplex, located at 2516 13th Avenue South, was owned by an elderly man, George Grant. My handyman lived in the downstairs unit. Some Major League drug dealers, originally from Chicago, moved into the upstairs unit.

The handyman and some neighbors, who were clergymen, were anxious to get rid of the drug dealers. They promptly contacted the police. They wrote down license-plate numbers, models of cars, and other information which they thought would be useful for the police. The police asked their neighbors to be patient; they needed a little time to make a drug buy.

Seven months went by while the Minneapolis police were supposedly laying a trap for the Chicago gangsters. Finally, his patience exhausted, the handyman took matters into his own hands. He simply shut off the electricity for the upstairs unit. That was enough. The gangsters left and never returned.

The moral of the story: Private landlords often feel that the legal system and the police are failing them so they are tempted to use illegal, make-shift measures to remove criminals from their buildings. As it took Teresa’s violent ex-boyfriend to rid my duplex of a drug-dealing tenant, so the resourceful handyman who threw the electrical switch succeeded in removing the Chicago gangsters from the building across the street.

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