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On the brink of eviction, Minn. community rallies to help save Navy veteran's rental home

Brian Fraser and his Pomeranian next to the new egress window on his rental cottage. He says painting the trim is about all he has left to bring the unit up to code. Nathan Bowe/Tribune

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — A Detroit Lakes Navy veteran is making good progress on bringing his rental home up to code by a city-imposed Dec. 31 deadline.

"I've got to paint the trim, basically that's all that's left," said Brian Fraser, who lives at 327 Elizabeth Avenue.

He said the property's owner, Laurel Carlson, is also making good progress on upgrades needed in a separate rental unit in the basement of her home at 325 Elizabeth Street.

Fraser's home, which has its own address, is located in Carlson's back yard and opens onto the alley.

Fraser was looking at having to find a new home after the city council voted to revoke Carlson's rental permit earlier this summer, mostly because of zoning issues.

After a public outcry, the council decided not to revoke Carlson's rental permit after all, and voted instead to "grandfather-in" the existing set-up, even though it violates the city's current zoning rules for rental units. Fraser and Carlson first had to find witnesses to testify that the rental unit had existed prior to the 1968 zoning ordinance.

"Grandfather" status or not, the rental units still had to be brought up to code. Fraser's cottage needed more smoke detectors and newer electrical outlets, as well as a fresh coat of exterior paint and a larger egress window in the bedroom.

Fraser said on Tuesday, Oct. 3, that Zitzow Electric has brought the electrical system up to code in his rental cottage, and it's ready for electrical inspection. The Detroit Lakes Fire Department donated five smoke detectors to help out his cause.

Green's Plumbing installed a new water heater, giving him a very steep discount because it's a veteran-owned business.

"I paid for the new egress window myself," he said. "My future son-in-law and his dad helped me put it in, it took us about two hours. We all have carpentry experience." Basement Innovations had offered to install the egress window, Fraser said. The offer was appreciated, but in the end wasn't needed.

Steve and Laura Zima, owner of The Nines clothing store in downtown Detroit Lakes, donated an 8-foot by 10-foot heavy duty plastic Suncast backyard shed to Fraser.

Jordan Cossette launched an online fundraiser that raised $1,575 from 30 people to help with rent and improvements.

The money has been distributed and "it came in handy," Fraser said. "If that money wasn't there, I'd still be in a little bit of hurt. I can't say enough thanks to everybody who donated and to Jordan for setting it up."

Fraser said that when Carlson is ready, and the improvements are finished and the buildings up to code, she will call the city to have the property inspected.