Le Parisien residents move out during major rehab work

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All of the residents have emptied out of Le Parisien, less than 10 years after the apartments opened at 2309 Lyndale Ave. S.

Since becoming owner of the property through a foreclosure action, officials at Commerce Bank discovered moisture intrusion, mold and cracked stucco, according to court documents. Residents were asked to leave the building last fall due to the scope of repairs.

“It’s really quite a story. What went on there was just crazy,” said one former resident, who requested not to print his name.

Le Parisien was originally designed to be “European-inspired and eco-friendly,” advertising cathedral vaulted ceilings, radiant heated floors and layouts analyzed by a feng shui consultant. It was meant to house a French bakery and an organic wine loft that opened onto a second-story courtyard. “Le Press Kit” said developer Mark Dziuk spent time in France studying neighborhoods and acquiring white oak flooring traditionally used in Paris apartments a century ago.

Dziuk could not be reached for comment.

The 13 units were originally marketed as condominiums priced at $295,000-$477,700, but when the economy turned, the developer decided to market them as apartments, priced from about $1,700-$3,500.

The former resident said it appears that plenty of money was spent on aesthetics, but some of the building features didn’t hold up over time. Italian washers and dryers broke down quickly, he said. A unique air conditioning system installed on the wall was rather fragile, he said. When faucets imported from Germany broke down, replacement pieces weren’t easily accessible, he said.

As early as 2007, remediation work was underway to remove six inches of black mold from the bottom of two units, according to court documents.

Le Parisien has said the general contractor was Velocity Investments Inc., a company that listed Dziuk as CEO and is no longer active in Minnesota.

Le Parisien filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late 2007; Dziuk told the Southwest Journal at the time that he needed to reorganize debts after a costly legal battle with his first set of architects.

Commerce Bank signed a voluntary mortgage foreclosure agreement with the developer in 2010. The bank purchased the building at public auction for $475,000, later conveying the property to Commerce Holdings I LLC.

A study of the building by the engineering consultant Encompass in 2013 discovered several defects. According to court documents: The stucco veneer was cracking and moisture intrusion was evident throughout the exterior. The unoccupied commercial units had cracked concrete floors, deck areas did not have flashing, and high humidity levels were creating condensation that damaged windows and doors and led to fungal growth.

The report said Le Parisien was in compliance with building code by providing “natural ventilation,” meaning residents could open windows to provide outside air ventilation. In Encompass’ opinion, however, natural ventilation isn’t realistic in Minnesota’s freezing temperatures. As a result, Encompass said the windows didn’t have a high enough condensation resistance capability for use in Minnesota without any mechanical means of reducing humidity. The problem could have been avoided if a mechanical system had been designed to maintain a low dew point in the units, according to the report.

The Encompass report anticipated that all of the building’s stucco would likely need to be removed. The consultant also recommended removing all exterior windows and doors, introducing a system to provide fresh air into the building, and providing a stand-alone HVAC system in each unit.

Commerce Bank filed a lawsuit against the developer in 2012, saying damages due to construction defects exceeded $50,000.

According to court documents, the developer said it should not be liable for damages because the bank purchased the building at a sheriff’s sale and had signed an agreement that barred liability. The defendant also argued that the claims were too old to file under law, and said the bank became aware of humidity problems and mold several years earlier.

The claims against Le Parisien LLC and Dziuk were dismissed with prejudice in 2014.

As contractors tore out stucco, the former resident said workers wrapped the exterior in a cellophane-like material, sealing people into their apartments so they couldn’t open windows. Electricity was periodically turned off, he said. As stucco came down, he said mold became visible underneath.

One complaint investigated by the city last fall questioned whether it was safe to live in the building while work progressed, as the removal of exterior walls exposed electrical wires and boxes to the elements. City staff asked the contractor to stop work last fall and ensure the building exterior was secured, according to an inspection summary. Minneapolis Fire Inspection Services received a complaint in October reporting low heat in units while construction created poor insulation.

“It was just nuts,” said the resident. “…It was really an ordeal, kind of unimaginable.”

Most people “just ran,” while others fought to recover deposits, he said.

Notification that all residents must move out of the building was sudden, he said, issued by a paper stuck in everyone’s door. At least one resident had renewed the lease days earlier, and others had just moved in.

“They gave everybody six weeks to move,” he said.

For some on the outside, Le Parisien’s transformation is a curiosity.

“It looks like a haunted old mansion,” said Shaun Feltz at Caffetto. “Take a look at it at night — it’s spooky.”

Other residents have wondered about the empty retail space, which has never been occupied. At one point, the founder of Victor’s 1959 Café was planning a Cuban-French restaurant. Joni Wheeler, the late owner of Sugar Sugar, considered leasing space as well, according to court documents. Restaurateur Kim Bartmann looked into the space. The owner of Mpls Tattoo Shop said she recently inquired about the space and was told the bank wasn’t interested in a tattoo parlor.

Dziuk told the Whittier neighborhood in 2009 that retailers shied away from renting during the downturn in the economy. And he avoided renting to interested franchises like Starbucks and Subway, according to Whittier meeting minutes.

A statement from Commerce Bank said repairs underway include external carpentry, new siding and new windows. The bank said work may be complete in 90 to 120 days, depending on the severity of winter weather.

“They’ve got their hands full with that place,” the former resident said.