Last fall, after graduating from college, Sarah fell for a “super cute” place she found on Craigslist.
She says she met landlord John Klinkner at a south Minneapolis apartment complex last September. When they got inside, something was off. The “disgusting” studio wasn’t what she’d seen on Craigslist. Where were the french doors from the photo?
Noting her disinterest, Klinkner offered her a one-bedroom in the same building. This one at least had a decent kitchen and a dishwasher. Sarah, who doesn’t want her real name used for fear of reprisal, shrugged off a missing door. Parts had been ordered, she was assured.
The place was in her price range ($900), the location was good, and she was tired of living at her parents’ home in Edina. Her mother helped her move in a week later.
Mom didn’t like what she saw. The two spent hours scrubbing floors and wiping surfaces, she recalls. The showerhead leaked and the tub wasn’t draining. Her mother bumped into an acquaintance outside the building, someone who knows the neighborhood well. “Good luck with the landlord,” the woman told her.
Take notes, mom told her daughter. Write down everything that goes wrong and every interaction you have. Ten months later, Sarah has pages and pages.
“Maintenance never showed up,” she wrote on October 11, despite the apparent promise for someone to come fix her shower drain. Then, a few days later: “Tub half full.”
Later that month: “42 [degrees] out @ 10 PM and NO HEAT.”
Twice, water leaked through her ceiling. The second time it took more than a week for someone to show up. The landlord sent painters to give the ceiling damage a cosmetic cover.
In July, Sarah got a note from a property manager, informing her that her rent would increase to $995 effective October 1 due to “higher costs and expenses.” She called to ask about getting out of her lease. She also decided to do some research.
She Googled “John Klinkner,” and found a wealth of complaints dating back years. It all sounded familiar: apartments in need of basic maintenance, buildings without functioning heat or air conditioning, unresponsive management team, John’s alleged habit of telling renters his name is “Dan,” while “Mary,” the woman who answers the phone, is actually his wife, Kathy.
Sarah felt duped, and more than a little naive. “I didn’t even think slumlords were a real thing,” she says.
As of 2016, Klinkner rented out at least 149 apartments in Minneapolis, plus a complex called “Uptown West Apartments” in St. Louis Park and another called “Georgetown Manor” in Excelsior. Klinkner contends that “99 percent of our renters are really happy,” and that the only ones who complain are people he’s evicted.
Court records tell a different story. Klinkner has been sued or taken to small-claims court dozens of times.
In 2009, Emiko Whitaker-Kawada rented a St. Louis Park unit. She had to clean her entire apartment before moving in, including what looked like mold growing in a sink and tub. One night she woke up so cold she could see her breath. When she called to complain, she was told to “bleed out the radiator,” something that hadn’t been explained or demonstrated when she moved in. At the end of her lease, the “unpleasant” Klinkner offered only a partial refund of her security deposit, citing “damage” to the apartment.
In court, she used photos to show the disrepair on the day she moved in. The proceeding, over an amount of less than $1,000, dragged on for close to two years. “I kept going because of the principle,” Whitaker-Kawada says. It wasn’t financially worth the time, but she’s since been contacted by other Klinkner renters seeking advice on winning their money back. “I want to spread his name around... as much as I can.”
In 2016, Galina Peterson brought a “laundry list” of complaints, from peeling paint to broken plumbing, to attorney Dick Cohen, a DFL legislator representing St. Paul. Petersen’s Linden Hills apartment had, on separate occasions, lacked heat for more than a week in the dead of winter.
“Landlord has been contacted and begun to hang up the phone,” reads a note in Cohen’s folder.
At the end of her stay, Klinkner claimed a chunk of the security deposit. She’d installed the wrong fuse, he alleged, after blowing the first one by running a space heater to keep warm. She’d also tried putting vegetables down a sink that didn’t drain properly. Klinkner was charging for the repair of “stuff that he’d caused,” says Cohen, whose client eventually took a settlement.
Klinkner is unrepentant. “You don’t know the whole story. If there’s a problem, they’re the ones that cause the problem.” Then he broke off the interview. “I’m right in the middle of traffic right now. I don’t have time for this. I’ll call back.”
Sarah plans to leave once the lease runs out, though she’s finding it hard to land a decent place in her price range.
She’s also concerned about an acquaintance who just moved into her building. The woman was anxiously awaiting the return of the deposit from her last apartment, money she needed, but says she was given the wrong mail key. When she called to ask for the right one, she was accused of losing her key and lying about it. The experience soured her on bringing up complaints; she’s not optimistic about getting a poorly functioning air conditioning unit replaced.
“And I just moved in this month,” she says. “There’s probably more stuff that’s going to happen, unfortunately.”
Ten months after she moved in, the cabinet in Sarah’s kitchen is still missing a door. She doesn’t expect to see it fixed before she moves out.
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