After searching for an apartment in Detroit Lakes for weeks with no luck, she finally found an affordable unit in town.
But Bailee Lewis says her physical and mental health have been tested in a five-month battle over living conditions in an apartment she thought she was lucky to find.
Lewis said she has been living at the Jackson apartments at 1210 Jackson Ave. in Detroit Lakes since February 2021. She is moving into a rental home nearby after ongoing disputes with the property management company and her own deteriorating respiratory health.
"I understood it was an older building, and I saw that there were cracks in the wall, but they did not inform me, anything, about the black mold," Lewis said.
Lewis' first concerns with her apartment were in her bathroom.
In February, right after moving in, she raised issues with her building manager about mold spots on the bathroom tile, a toilet that would continuously run and a damaged bathroom fan that sounded like "grinding" every time it was turned on. During her initial walkthrough with the building manager, she was told the bathroom fan would be replaced, but the replacement fan took over a month to be installed — and it was still installed incorrectly, according to Detroit Lakes building officials. The fan was blowing air from outside into the bathroom, not sucking the bathroom air out the exhaust vent.
When describing her conversations with the building's maintenance man during the visit, she said, "There were these blue, what looked like fungus dots on the tile of the shower, so I asked him about it … and he said, 'oh, it's nothing, nothing to worry about,' so that was like a red flag right there."
In May, a board on her third floor deck broke through to the floor below. She says it wasn't until a month later that maintenance fixed the broken section of planking by covering in with a piece of plywood.
On June 20, she said she found dirt and other debris under her air conditioning unit. Upon further inspection, she noticed the unit did not have an air filter installed and the inside was filled with a rust-colored goo. In moving the unit to inspect it, part of her wall fell away.
"The whole wall basically crumbled, exposing rotten wood behind it. There was more black mold, there was more water, and from there it's been downhill since," said Lewis. "We immediately took pictures, contacted them, nothing. Absolutely nothing."
Lewis' boyfriend, who was now on the lease as well, emailed the management company after receiving no reply to their initial requests for more than a week.
It took nearly three more weeks for repairs to be completed for her air conditioning unit and the wall, but, she said, her new air conditioning unit began leaking too; wrecking the new drywall.
However, the breaking point for Lewis occurred on July 19, when she discovered a crack in her ceiling that began leaking a "reddish, brown, soy sauce-looking" liquid that stained her $300 ottoman.
"Thankfully my dog didn't lick it in the middle of the night," she said.
The Jackson apartment building is one of three rental properties in Detroit Lakes that are owned and operated by Rose Management LLC, a Fargo-based business with dozens of properties across North Dakota and Minnesota. River Place apartments, at 1215 Long Avenue, and Lakeview apartments, at 1333 Madison Avenue, are the other two properties under Rose Management.
Lewis posted her concerns on various community social media sites on July 19 and prompted an inspection of Lewis' unit by building code compliance officials for the city of Detroit Lakes.
"Our code and compliance officials did an inspection of her unit … and then, after proper notice to the landlord, we did a reinspect on the entire building," said Kelcey Klemm, city administrator for Detroit Lakes.
The reinspection of the entire building yielded an "extensive" list of deficiencies, he said.
The next step, Klemm said, is that a compliance order will be issued to the property owners to correct the deficiencies within 60 days. The city will conduct follow-up inspections and, if the property isn't brought into compliance within the 60 days, the city may revoke Rose Management's rental registration. The management company can then appeal the revocation within 35 days, which would bring the issue to the Detroit Lakes City Council to judge the appeal.
If Rose Management loses its rental license, their tenants would face eviction, Klemm said
He said Detroit Lakes began a rental inspection program in 2017. The Jackson Avenue apartment building wasn't initially inspected until 2018.
"There was a list of deficiencies that were noted in the [initial] inspection," he said. "They were given, basically, the three years, until the next reinspection, to correct those items."
He added, if any other renters in the city have experienced similar unsanitary conditions in their buildings, the city's code compliance officers want to know about it and encouraged those tenants to contact the city.
Jill Thompson, a manager for Rose Management, said the company only found out about the recent issues with the Jackson Avenue property on July 19 and said contractors are scheduled to be on site to fix the problems with the building.
"You know the thing with social media is kind of that it puts everybody at risk and they don't even give anybody a chance to do what they need to do," said Thompson. "We are doing everything that we can do to get everything done that is on that report."
Lewis' neighbor, Amber Tesch, has lived in a Jackson Avenue basement apartment for four years. She said she's also had problems with mold and delayed maintenance work. Additionally, since she has a basement apartment, she's had problems with flooding and there is no portable air conditioning unit in her apartment, which can get unbearably hot in the summer, she said.
"The whole bottom floor doesn't get air conditioning," said Tesch. "It doesn't even cool down at night, so it's like 100 degrees in here. I'm running off caffeine and fumes because I can't sleep in here."
She works as house cleaner and spends her day cleaning expensive homes in the area. But when it's time to go home, she said she sometimes hesitates because she doesn't want to be in her apartment.
When discussing Bailee's unit, Tesch said, "That used to be the landlord's unit for years, how did she not know anything was wrong with that place?"
Lewis also began to notice that she'd been using her inhaler more often and saw her doctor about her concerns.
"All of a sudden, I started noticing that my allergies were significantly getting bad," said Lewis.
She said, while she's always been an asthmatic with seasonal allergies, she's rarely needed to use her inhaler until she moved to Jackson Avenue. Now, she's on six different medications and is using her inhaler daily to combat respiratory stresses that she said started after moving into her apartment.
She said, during one of her doctor's visits, a nurse told her, "if you do not move out of this apartment, your condition is going to get worse and the medication will not work."
Both tenants, Lewis and Tesch, said they wouldn't rent anything from Rose Management in the future.
"I will never, ever rent from them again," said Lewis. "I cannot live with myself without having something done and change happen because I don't want this to continually keep happening."