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Continued: Landlord Steve Meldahl is Minneapolis' biggest challenger

  • Article by: MAYA RAO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 26, 2014 - 10:07 AM

He works out of a home at 25th and Humboldt Avenues N., where his appeals of fines topping $6,000 eventually resulted in the City Council to vote to cancel them.

The home is filled with boxes of documents chronicling his tug-of-war with the city. He is given to scrawling notes in the margins of his assessment notices, like, “No violations at this property!” and “need 1 subpoena for housing inspector.”

Notices flowed in for uncut grass and weeds hanging over alleys. Junked cars in the yard. Smoke detectors in need of repair. Exterior handrails needed on the rear stairs, along with repairs to a retaining wall, missing bricks on the chimney, and loose shingles on the roof.

In the last two years, his properties have racked up 595 housing violations and 245 police calls, though Meldahl attributes most of the problems to tenants or their visitors.

He also owns another half-million dollars worth of property in Florida, according to a federal court filing.

He said after the tornado that struck north Minneapolis in May 2011, damaging his properties, a bank called a rollover note due. Meldahl defaulted on the loan. He filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in December 2012.

Admitted Meldahl: “It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.” As part of the reorganization, he is working out a deal to unload 11 of his Minneapolis houses.

The city is one of his largest unsecured creditors. At the time of the bankruptcy filing, according to court documents, Minneapolis claimed he owed more than $121,000.

‘Levied in full’

His lawsuits have claimed that hearing officers — private attorneys that the city hires to decide cases — “rubber stamp” city decisions, though the lawyers counter that they hear the cases fairly. He’s fought the city on the validity of vacant and boarded fees, claiming the nearly $7,000 fine is nowhere near the city’s annual cost for monitoring such buildings. And Meldahl accused the city in one instance of withholding hearing transcripts that forced him to construct from memory the events of dozens of appeal hearings.

The district court and City Council often wind up later approving settlements for Meldahl, though the city scored a victory after the state appeals court last fall upheld a series of fines against him. He lost because he hired outside lawyers for that case, he said. Next time, he’ll go back to representing himself.

JoAnn Velde, the city’s deputy director of housing inspections, said Meldahl is not proactive about maintaining his properties, “which requires a lot of city services.”

He complained to the hearing officer that the city’s notices were not coming in the mail, and that the matter at hand was the tenant’s responsibility, anyway.

“There’s a lack of due process here, your honor,” he said.

The officer, James Gurovitsch, listened to both him and a city representative. Then, he said, “If there’s nothing further, I will take the matter under advisement.”

He retrieved the decision in the mail Friday. It said the assessment “shall be levied in full.”

 

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

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