Minneapolis wins in fight against landlord

  • Article by: JAMES ELI SHIFFER
  • Star Tribune
  • March 7, 2012 - 8:16 PM

The city of Minneapolis won a court victory this week in its crackdown on one of the city's biggest landlords, Spiros Zorbalas, who could lose his rental licenses for three properties where inspectors discovered multiple code violations and unpermitted repair work.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the City Council's decision last April to revoke the rental licenses for three Zorbalas-controlled properties: 905 W. Franklin Av., 1830 Stevens Av. S. and 3725 Cedar Av. S. Inspectors cited a pattern of trouble at the apartment buildings, including fire code violations, vermin infestations, lack of heat and hot water, uncollected rubbish and repairs conducted without city permits.

Those properties are only three of 38 buildings that the city says Zorbalas owns or controls. Under city law, the council could revoke all of his licenses, affecting 752 units that house 1,500 or more people. Zorbalas, who lives in Naples, Fla., did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

Despite the prospect of evictions, the city stands by its efforts to revoke the licenses as part of its continuing crackdown on negligent landlords.

"Today's a great day for renters in Minneapolis," said Council Member Gary Schiff. "One of the city's worst landlords has lost three of his licenses and under city law, that means he's eligible to lose all of his licenses for a period of five years."

Among other arguments, attorneys for Zorbalas told the appeals court that the city didn't have "good cause" to revoke the licenses. But appeals Judge Edward J. Cleary found the city's actions were justified.

"In sum, based on the totality of the record, we conclude that substantial evidence supports the city's determination to revoke the rental licenses," Cleary wrote.

Because the council's action was stayed during the appeal, tenants of the three buildings were allowed to stay put. Schiff said the city will proceed slowly and cautiously in enforcing the revocations. Last year, Zorbalas hired a new management company that pledged to improve upkeep, but Schiff said city records show continuing violation notices on several of the properties. He also still hears complaints from tenants.

"We don't want to increase homelessness, but we don't want irresponsible landlords to continue to use tenants as human shields from housing codes," Schiff said.

James Eli Shiffer • 612-673-4116

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