For 17 years, a cozy studio apartment owned by Ruth Meiers Hospitality House has been home for Warren Young.
Now the 75-year-old formerly homeless man is searching for a new place to stay as the building that also housed the men’s emergency homeless shelter is sold.
Young and several other men who live in Ruth Meiers affordable apartments at 305 N. 23rd St. have until Nov. 17 to leave their homes.
But Ruth Meiers officials may have broken state law in how the agency notified tenants of the deadline.
Tenants received the notice to vacate on Oct. 18, but state law requires notice of a full calendar month, rather than just 30 days, for those on month-to-month leases, said Brad Peterson of Legal Services of North Dakota.
A full calendar month’s notice would mean residents have until the end of November to vacate their apartments. At least one resident is seeking legal help to try to fight the notice to vacate. One resident has a lease through Dec. 31.
Bismarck attorney Bob Bolinske Sr. served a complaint on Ruth Meiers Hospitality House and the buyer of the building last week, a hand-written document he rushed to deliver in an attempt to keep the men’s emergency shelter open.
Bolinske said he believes Ruth Meiers did not give proper notice to residents of the shelter or the apartments and he wants to try to help them.
"I think it was inhumane,” he said.
The complaint had not been filed in court as of Friday.
Ruth Meiers Interim Executive Director Steve Neu said residents were given proper notice of the deadline and attorneys are addressing the complaint.
“They were notified appropriately and properly,” Neu said.
Neu said there are fewer than 10 residents living in the 25 apartments that adjoin the emergency shelter, which closed the morning of Oct. 27 in preparation for the sale of the building.
The legal issues could delay the closing date for Heartview Foundation, which is purchasing the building and has offered to make the facility available this winter for emergency shelter.
Kurt Snyder, executive director of Heartview, said the current purchase agreement says the apartments will be vacated after the sale closes.
“If that’s the law, then I’d imagine then the actual closing date would not happen until after that event," Snyder said.
Searching for options
Meanwhile, residents of the apartments are frantically searching for places to stay. But affordable options are limited, particularly for tenants who are sex offenders or have felony records.
Young is still hoping he can stay at his apartment, a personal haven he’s decorated with artwork of dogs playing poker and pool.
"I really don’t want to leave," Young said earlier this week in his apartment.
Young said his “Plan B” is to buy a bus ticket to go back to Utah, where he had previously cleaned at a Dunkin' Donuts.
Many of the tenants are frustrated by the short notice.
"All we heard was the hearsay, and then all of a sudden the notice was put on the door that we had 30 days," said resident Larry Rubey, 65. "What they’re doing is totally wrong."
Neu said residents were informed that the building was up for sale. Since July, 80 men were transferred from the facility on 23rd Street to the Ruth Meiers main facility at 1100 E. Boulevard Ave., which also offers affordable housing units.
But Rubey, a registered sex offender, is among those who don’t qualify to move to the other Ruth Meiers location. Rubey went to prison from 1999 to 2010 and then was in civil commitment at the North Dakota State Hospital until 2015.
Rubey said he has atoned for his past actions and has tried to make a life for himself in Bismarck. He has multiple sclerosis and can't work. He’s been looking for another place for a couple of months, but he's stuck. Rubey attempted to share rent with another sex offender also looking for housing. But the probation officer of the potential roommate said no, concerned about two sex offenders living together, Rubey said.
Now Rubey is planning to get a bus ticket out of Bismarck to another location and "hoping to start over." He may live in a shelter until he can save money.
Melvin Jamerson, 35, became homeless about a year ago after he got out of prison. He was a resident in the shelter portion of the facility until he was able to get an apartment in January. His lease is through Dec. 31.
"This place was perfect because they rent to felons," Jamerson said, adding that his record limits where he can stay.
Jamerson said he tried last month to get into the Ruth Meiers main facility, but was told he didn't qualify. He said he doesn't want to spend all of his money at a costly motel but is still hopeful.
“I’ll be happy to find a place," he said. "Some place, any place.”