Samuel Graham knew something was wrong the first night he spent in his northeast Minneapolis apartment.
The bathroom walls were stained with mildew. There were bedbugs. And cockroaches, he said.
“I had to throw away my couch, I had to throw away my bed, I had to throw away brand-new sheets and a quilt,” Graham said.
He is part of a group of tenants living at 3457 Central Av. NE. who won a tenant remedies action against landlord Lance Redfield this month after going to trial to prove that maintenance issues in their 12-unit building were going unaddressed.
In a Sept. 6 ruling, Hennepin County District Court Referee JaPaul J. Harris ordered Redfield to pay more than $24,000 in rent abatement, plus attorney fees, and deduct $200 off each rent check until the repairs are made.
Housing advocates say that the ruling stands out in its size and scope.
“We just don’t see that many tenant remedies actions,” said Eric Hauge, director of organizing and public policy at tenant advocacy organization HOME Line.
HOME Line has gotten complaints about Redfield’s properties before, Hauge said.
Minneapolis housing code violation data show that Redfield oversaw 48 units and had 168 code violations between January 2013 and March 2016.
The building at 3457 Central Av. had 51 violations during that period.
The difference this time, Hauge said, was that tenants decided to respond with legal action.
“They weren’t afraid of it,” said Dave Madgett, a volunteer attorney who represented the tenants. “And it was cool to see them come together as a team.”
With the help of Madgett and tenant organizers, the tenants formed an association and voted to file a tenant remedy action. Six of them ended up testifying in court and provided exhibits including photographs of peeling paint and jars of dead bugs, the court order shows.
Redfield has 30 days from the ruling date to pay the rent abatement. Reached by phone Monday, Redfield declined to comment. His attorney, Conor Tobin, did not respond to a request for comment.
When Redfield says that the repairs are complete, he’ll return to court to ask that the $200 monthly rent abatement be lifted, Madgett said.
If there are still maintenance issues, he said, “obviously, we will defend against that and bring whatever evidence is necessary.”
“It is an ongoing process,” Madgett said. “I’m in it for the long haul.”