City of Orono spending thousands in dock dispute with retiree

An Orono, Minnesota woman is facing time in jail and a fine for renting out her dock on Lake Minnetonka. The city is not backing down and is now taking the 75-year-old retiree to court.

Nancy Edwards has lived in her Lake Minnetonka cottage for 20 years. She inherited the home from her parents, who bought the place in 1960.

Edwards is on a fixed income and while she doesn’t have a mortgage, her property taxes alone cost her $1,000 a month. In an effort to off-set those costs, Edwards started renting her shoreline property for $3,000 a summer.

“It’s one-fourth of my annual income,” said Edwards. “It means the difference of being able to stay here or not stay here.”

Last June, the City of Orono cited Edwards for violating a city ordinance which prohibits homeowners from renting dock space. 

In an effort to become compliant, Edwards entered into a lease agreement with the boat owner, in which he rents not just the dock, but her house as well. She says he and his children use the house like a cabin in the summer. 

In addition, he added Nancy to the boat title.

But, the city of Orono did not drop the charges. Instead, they cited her for violating property rental license laws. 

“I’ve always been one who can’t tolerate injustice... I know, and everyone out here knows it’s absurd,” said Edwards.

The City of Orono declined to comment on the case, but a public records request found they have spent $3,198.50 on outside legal counsel through the month of June. Officials confirmed that figure did not include hours logged by the city attorney and other staff.

“I’ve never even had a parking ticket so when I got this subpoena I thought, 'oh my god, what is this?'” said Edwards.

The parties have been unsuccessful in finding a resolution outside of court, and the case is expected to go to trial. 

In checking with other cities, FOX 9 learned Mound, Wayzata, Excelsior, Deephaven, Spring Park and Tonka Bay all allow private dock rentals. Shorewood, like the city of Orono, does not allow it.

Many communities defer dock rental rules to the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, which allows one boat per 50 feet of shoreline--regardless of who owns the boat.

Edwards has obtained an attorney who is providing legal counsel pro bono. Her attorney says he estimates his billable hours on the case are $10,000 to $20,000 so far. Edwards believes this cost is why no one has pushed back on this ordinance until now.

“Somebody has to stand up and say, no,” she said. “I’m not going to take this. It’s not right.”