Tenants' fate is a question mark

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 1, 2012 - 10:48 PM

Minneapolis City Council revoked the rental licenses of 2 landlords; dozens of tenants await appeals court decisions.

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Landlord Ronald Folgers defended himself in front of the Minneapolis City Council Monday, December 12, 2011.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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The fate of the nine tenants left in landlord Ron Folger's houses remains in limbo, after the Minneapolis City Council gave them a reprieve from its action to revoke Folger's rental licenses.

Earlier this month, the council voted to yank Folger's licenses on 16 properties -- an action triggered by the revocation of licenses from two of his properties earlier this year for housing violations that the city said went uncorrected.

Yet for the second time in the past year, the council has postponed the most difficult part of its license revocations: evicting tenants caught in the middle by the city's crackdown on landlords who run afoul of city rules.

On Jan. 10, a panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals will hold a hearing over apartment building owner Spiros Zorbalas' challenge to the city's revocation in April of licenses of three properties where about 128 people live.

The Zorbalas revocations have been stayed pending the outcome of the appeals court case.

A city ordinance says a landlord who has two or more revoked licenses cannot hold any licenses for five years. Depending on the outcome of Zorbalas' appeal of the three revocations, he could face license revocation on at least 29 more properties, potentially affecting 2,000 tenants in Minneapolis.

In Folger's case, the potential displacement of tenants during a very tight housing market, especially for low income residents, prompted objections to the revocations by the Minnesota Tenants Union when the issue came before the council.

Acknowledging the tenants union's concerns, Council Member Elizabeth Glidden introduced several provisions at the meeting spelling out additional protections for the tenants and the promise of help to get them relocated.

She further modified her proposal at the council meeting Dec. 16, directing various city departments to help the tenants and directing city staff to work with "outside jurisdictions and partners" to help find new homes for the tenants.

The council resolution said that efforts must be made to see that families can keep their children in their homes until the end of the school year.

"We wanted to ensure we really think through the impact on the tenants and the city was actively engaged with all the partners that could help the situation with the tenants," Glidden said Thursday.

Efforts to aid families affected by the three Zorbalas revocations were also spelled out in a memo by the Department of Regulatory Services last May in response to a council request. The types of assistance are not as explicit as those laid out in the Folger resolution.

Glidden said that at the time the council acted on the Zorbalas revocations, he was accompanied by an attorney. "At the time we made staff direction, we knew Mr. Zorbalas was going to appeal," she said. "We were not as detailed in the staff direction. We were on a different timeline" and knew the council action would be stayed, pending the appeals court decision.

Folger, who has had 368 code violations against 15 properties since 2009, said Thursday he plans to appeal the revocations of all his licenses, but has not yet retained an attorney.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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