ORONO — The case against a woman who was charged with illegally renting out her Lake Minnetonka dock and Orono home has been resolved.
For the better part of the last year, 75-year-old Nancy Edwards has been at the center of a dock controversy involving the city of Orono.
She owns a cottage, which she inherited from her father, on Lake Minnetonka’s Crystal Bay. In order to pay her property taxes, as she’s on a fixed income, she rents her home for $3,000 a summer to a Chaska man and his two children. As part of their agreement, her tenant is allowed to dock his boat at her slip — Edwards has a dock, but does not have a boat.
But the city of Orono said she was illegally renting out her dock and her home without a license, which violates city code. She was charged with a boat rental violation and a rental dwelling violation, both misdemeanors that carry penalties of fines and/or jail time if there’s a conviction.
On Thursday, Aug. 1, the city and Edwards signed an agreement to suspend prosecution.
“I could hardly drive over here, and I’m still shaky, but I’m glad it’s over,” Edwards said, following the agreement, but noted she would have liked going in front of a jury to talk to people about the issue. “I’m glad it’s over. I really am. And that it didn’t go all the way to the Supreme Court.”
In order to come to the agreement to suspend prosecution, Edwards had to comply with city ordinances. To do so, Edwards, on May 13, filed paperwork to add her name to the title of the boat, which took care of the boat rental violation. Then, more recently, her tenant signed a new lease agreement that meets the requirements of the city’s ordinance, bringing her into compliance for that violation.
Now, all Edwards has to do is pay $500 in fees (she has six months to do so) and not be arrested or charged with a similar offense in the next year, and everything will be dropped, explained Erick Kaardal, Edwards’ pro-bono attorney. Essentially, the case is over. “It’s done,” he said.
“Nancy, you won today, because you get to keep your house,” Kaardal said.
In a comment to Lakeshore Weekly News about the agreement, Orono Mayor Denny Walsh said, “The case has been put on stay, and will be dismissed if she stays in compliance for the next year, due to the fact Nancy Edwards has complied with the Orono-related codes.”
Peter MacMillan, the attorney representing the city of Orono, told the paper via email on Aug. 2 that “Provided there are no violations of the terms of the agreement, the case will be dismissed at the end of one year. No additional court appearances are anticipated and the dismissal will be administratively processed by court staff.”
“This is what happens to innocent people when they’re properly represented — you come into compliance and then things get dismissed,” Kaardal said, later noting Edwards wouldn’t have been able to live without the $3,000 in rental income she gets from her tenant, but she can maybe live without the $500 she has agreed to pay.
He noted it was “critical” for Edwards to comply with the law in order to come to a resolution with the city, “But, not surprising … bad laws sometimes have huge exceptions” and Kaardal and his legal team found them.
Kaardal noted his legal team did not think Orono’s ordinances were enforceable against Edwards (a district judge disagreed and denied motions to dismiss the charges back in April), “But you came into compliance so even the city couldn’t disagree. So it’s a really good resolution,” Kaardal said.
Cities can choose whether to pursue civil or criminal charges in cases like this, Kaardal said, but will usually give a resident notice and work with them to become compliant before moving forward with charges. That didn’t happen in Edwards’ case, he said, and added this all could have been worked out before the prosecution started.
“Orono made its decisions there, but the prosecutor did a nice job” in the fact that he agreed not to prosecute after Edwards became compliant, and didn’t prosecute the fact the city said Edwards, historically, was not in compliance with city ordinances, Kaardal said.
For Edwards, this case has been about more than just keeping the $3,000 in annual income from renting out her home. She has said someone had to stand up to government overreach, and she became the face of it in the Lake Minnetonka area.
Kaardal — who has represented three Orono residents, including Edwards, in land-use issues — has been critical of the city’s code and overreach. He commended Edwards for fighting city hall, saying her muster and might to continue in the months-long case is something many people do not have the time or means to do, and she is an inspiration to others in similar situations.
“You’re an example of fighting city hall and surviving,” Kaardal told Edwards in a huddle with her three supporters and reporters outside the courtroom after she signed the agreement. “...You can’t fight city hall and win, but you can fight city hall and survive. And the reason you drew me in, is you wanted to survive. You wanted to keep your rental income so you could stay in your house.”
Edwards hopes to see change in the future so property owners can have more control over their property, she told the newspaper in an interview in May. And her attitude about that did not change after she signed the agreement.
“I’m glad it’s over, but I’m really disappointed that we didn’t set a precedent so other people don’t have to go through this. And who else would, anyway?” Edwards said on Aug. 1, noting she has the time and will aggressively work so people in the community are “aware of what’s happening here.”
While walking out of the Hennepin County Courthouse at Ridgedale with a few of her supporters on Aug. 1, Edwards said she will continue to push for the city’s land-use ordinances to be amended or removed altogether. She has even toyed with the idea of running for Orono City Council.
“The ordinance has to be eliminated or amended,” Edwards said. “There’s a lot of ways they could have exceptions to this and they don’t. It’s a one-size-fits-all, and it sure didn’t fit me.”
In the meantime, though, she’ll go back to being the dancing grandma in sunglasses at local bars (she only dances to funk and soul, she says); sharing her stories in a Facebook group created after news spread about the dock controversy, now named Nancy’s Musings; and planning an end-of-summer party at her cottage with her friends and supporters.