Mower County bugged by cockroach problem

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Board passes motion requiring rural Austin apartment complex to eradicate the bugs

Mower County stepped in Tuesday to stamp out cockroaches at a local apartment complex, but the building’s manager said there was no need.

The county board unanimously passed a motion at Tuesday’s board meeting requiring Dune Acquisitions LLC to take building-wide action to eradicate cockroaches at an apartment complex at 24248 534th Ave. in rural Austin.

The property’s manager, Jason Korfhage, told the board ownership he had already been addressing the issue.

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“That building is being taken care of — has been being taken care of since we bought it in 2007,” he told the board. “That building is under control.”

The county didn’t agree.

Residents at the complex first went to Environmental Services Director Angie Knish and Community Health Director Lisa Kocer in April for help with a cockroach infestation. After failing to resolve the issue with the landlord, the board authorized Knish and Kocer to inspect the public health threat at its May 27 meeting.

The two inspected 12 of the roughly 20 apartment units with Fritz Lubinski of Rochester’s Adams Pest Control. They found cockroaches in four units and four other tenants reported seeing live cockroaches, especially in the evening.

“We would still consider this a public health nuisance,” Knish told the board Tuesday, adding cockroaches spread diseases and reproduce rapidly.

The county-hired exterminator stated it wasn’t a large infestation but recommended treatment. Knish and Kocer’s recommendations, which were approved by the board, called to inspect all other units. Pesticides and non-chemical treatments will be used in units with live cockroaches, and glue boards will be installed in other units to ensure there are no cockroaches. Followup inspections will be conducted.

But Korfhage criticized the county for how it’s handled the process.

“I’m really irritated with how this investigation has gone,” he said, calling the county’s approach juvenile.

He argued the board didn’t get the whole story, saying his business has ongoing pest control procedures and commonly works with an exterminator. Most landlords, he argued, consider cockroaches an ongoing issue they learn to control. Tenants commonly move in and leave, bringing in things like cockroaches to their new apartments, Korfhage told the board. He said maintenance inspects and treats each unit after a tenant moves, using boric acid and sticky traps to eradicate cockroaches.

“As a landlord, that’s basically all we can do until we get a report or we get knowledge that there are bugs in there,” he said.

However, Knish contacted Dune’s exterminator, who told her he’s worked at the property at most twice a year — if not less often — and only on one apartment at a time. The exterminator told her it was insufficient and a “band aid fix,” adding adjacent properties should be addressed, according to Knish.

Korfhage said he didn’t hear any reports from tenants and criticized the county for not informing ownership which tenants reported the issue, saying he can’t fix the issue if he doesn’t have details.

“This is setting us up to fail. We can’t get stuff done like this.” he said.

County Attorney Kristen Nelsen said reportees were kept private under Minnesota statute .

Under state statute, county officials said it’s property owners’ responsibility, and the county can abate a public health threat and assess costs back to the property owner through a property tax bill.

Korfhage said leases dictate that tenants are responsible for damage and problems they bring to the property and are therefore responsible to eliminate cockroaches.

“The tenant can complain and say my landlord’s not taking care of this,” Korfhage told the board. “What he’s really saying is my landlord’s not paying for this.”

But once the issue was brought to the board, Commissioner Polly Glynn said they have a responsibility.

“When it’s brought to our attention, it becomes a health issue and it becomes something that the board has to take action on,” Glynn said.

The board allowed Korfhage to use his own exterminator to inspect the units, but he’ll have to take action within 10 days. If the issue isn’t addressed, the county will hire an exterminator and assess the costs on Dune Acquisitions through property taxes.