Home improvement


Another Whistleblower steps up to talk about the unlicensed plumber

Monday, July 27th, 2009

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Anne Steffan wanted to blow the whistle on Rodd Hansen, an unlicensed plumber she hired for her kitchen repair. She was frustrated by the delays in the project, especially after she had paid about $17,000 in advance. After Steffan contacted Whistleblower, I found out that she wasn’t the first person to be fooled by Hansen’s claim that he was a licensed plumber. In my story for Sunday’s paper, I mentioned a 74-year-old woman who had previously contacted the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to file a complaint against Hansen. (more…)

Even if your contractor goes belly-up, state fund could help finish your home improvement project

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

My Sunday column used the experience of a Plymouth man who successfully sued his former contractor to explain how winning a judgment in conciliation court isn’t the same as collecting your debt. The comments on the story offer some advice from those who have experienced this little-noticed arena of the Minnesota court system.

After reading my column, Donald H. Walser, an attorney with Kraft Walser Hettig Honsey Kleiman in Hutchinson, Minn., alerted me to the Contractor Recovery Fund, a pot of state money that comes from fees paid by licensed contractors. Here’s how the state Department of Labor and Industry describes its purpose:

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We won’t let Ted Poetsch’s former house rot away, Fannie Mae says

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

poetschhouse.jpgNow officially vacant and officially owned by Fannie Mae, 823 Penn Avenue North in Minneapolis – the subject of Monday’s story and video and this photo by my colleague Kyndell Harkness – has a bright future, if Fannie Mae‘s promises are fulfilled. Amy Bonitatibus, a spokeswoman in Washington for the federally-bailed-out mortgage giant, said that as of March 31, Fannie Mae owned 62,371 single-family homes nationwide – all of them obtained through foreclosure. That’s nearly 20,000 more than a year earlier.

But Bonitatibus pointed out that Fannie Mae is selling thousands of houses as well, through private brokers, auctions and its own web site. Fannie Mae’s modus operandi is to fix up the homes and then sell them, rather than just unloading them as is, she said. It won’t sit boarded for years, either, she said. She suspects the repairs and listing could happen within 30 days.

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Cities using federal money to flatten decrepit homes, while St. Paul tells dozens of landlords to replace their windows

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

The federally-fueled demolition push in St. Paul and Minneapolis that Whistleblower has been blogging about house by house got some big-picture treatment, thanks to reporting by my colleague Chris Havens.

The numbers are striking: Minneapolis is planning to knock down 150 homes in the next 18 months, up from 34 in 2006, while St. Paul wants to raze between 90 and 130 buildings this year. Altogether, the cities demolished 369 houses from 2006 to 2008. A typical street in the Minneapolis grid has 14-15 homes on each side, so if all these homes were adjacent to each other, the flattened area is the equivalent of 12 city blocks. That’s a big jump for recent years, but as a planning expert points out in Havens’ story, it follows in the footsteps of the massive demolitions that accompanied “urban renewal” and highway construction in the 1950s, 1960s, and the late 1970s through the early 1980s.

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