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Willmar rental inspector contracts with Spanish-speaking interpreter

It has come to the city of Willmar’s attention that there is a segment of landlords in the community who have been taking advantage of non-English speaking tenants by deferring maintenance requests and neglecting their properties.

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WILLMAR — Since hiring Ryan Tillemans as a rental inspector earlier this year, it has come to the city of Willmar’s attention that there is a segment of landlords in the community who have been taking advantage of non-English speaking tenants by deferring maintenance requests and neglecting their properties.

Justice  Walker Willmar Planning Development
Justice Walker
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That may be coming to an end. The Willmar City Council on Sept. 6 approved contracting with a Spanish-speaking interpreter with whom Tillemans has been working on an informal basis.

“We’ve been running into a lot more situations where we encounter residents who do not speak English, and we’ve encountered residents who have somehow signed leases that are in English with landlords who are exploiting that fact and it’s been a constant problem,” Willmar Planning and Development Director Justice Walker told the council.

It was during one of these meetings with a non-English-speaking tenant and a non-Spanish-speaking landlord that Tillemans encountered Jeanette Morales, who is a housing advocate and speaks Spanish, according to Walker. She also is an employee of Pact for Families Collaborative.

She has been informally interpreting for Tillemans on a weekly to biweekly basis, and asked that a formal contract be drawn up for her services, charging $45 per hour and billing in 15-minute intervals, according to Walker.

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“Sometimes, even if the tenants have a relationship with the landlord, the landlord, if they don’t speak Spanish, will just dismiss them,” Walker said, explaining why this service is so important. “(Tenants) are making these complaints and we are hearing about it through Miss Morales that then the landlord is like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know about it,’ and all these other things. So what’s been happening is when there is an inspection with the inspector, the landlord, Miss Morales, and the tenants present, the landlord can no longer be coy about what has been happening or if they’ve been notified or how often they’ve been notified.”

The tenants will explain through the interpreter that they have notified the landlord about an issue, such as a leak, and have the documentation of the notification, so now the landlords can no longer say they were not notified or did not know about it, Walker explained.

When asked if there was a need for a Somali-speaking interpreter, as well, Walker explained that Somali tenants have organized themselves and have an English-speaking person with them when meeting with the rental inspector or landlords.

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Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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