Residents of a Brooklyn Center townhome complex have sued their landlord for collecting rent without holding a valid rental license and failing to provide housing that meets city code.
A nonprofit that advocates for housing justice and for people of color also joined the suit against property manager Gaughan Cos. filed Friday in Hennepin County District Court. The suit also claims the Forest Lake-based company retaliated against African American tenants who complained about poor living conditions or applied for rental assistance by not renewing leases, sending moveout notices, and evictions.
The plaintiffs have secured the Housing Justice Center to represent them in the class-action suit, which would include all tenants who currently or have previously lived at Victoria Townhomes within the last six years.
"With this lawsuit, the tenants of Victoria Townhomes seek to put an end to Gaughan's fraudulent and discriminatory rental practices, and to remedy the harm that Gaughan has done to them and the public," the suit reads.
Gaughan had not immediately responded to a message seeking comment.
Brooklyn Center city code requires landlords to hold a license, but Gaughan's rental license for units on the 6700 and 6800 blocks of Grimes Place expired May 31, 2021. The company has a renewal pending, but as of Tuesday has not passed inspection, said City Clerk Barb Suciu.
Last month, the city taped a notice to the complex's office stating, "This property is not licensed for rental."
The suit accuses Gaughan of collecting rent from tenants despite not holding a valid license. It also said Gaughan accepted emergency rental assistance from RentHelpMN on behalf of tenants it told to apply for the pandemic aid, then failed to renew annual leases of tenants who did. A resident who learned about Gaughan's actions and organized tenant opposition was served with a 60-day move-out notice in January and eviction in February, the suit said.
In other cases, residents' request for repairs "were met with inadequate response — or no response at all," the suit said. Problems included rodent infestations, black mold on walls and ceilings, gaps in windows, and closet doors falling off their tracks.
Gaughan unlawfully targeted certain vehicles for towing to make ancillary revenue, the suit claimed.
No current residents will be forced to move while Gaughan seeks to obtain a new license, said Jesse Anderson, the city's deputy director of community development.
City inspections of the units will resume March 14, the same night Gaughan's application for a new license is expected to come before the City Council. The move to seek a new license appears to signal Gaughan's willingness to rectify problems, Anderson said.
"Our goal is to keep safe housing for tenants. That's the goal with inspections," Anderson said. "They appear to be moving forward with getting a license so we are optimistic they will be caught up."
Even if a new license is granted, the lawsuit will continue, said the plaintiff's attorney Jim Poradek.
"This case is really about a group of tenants who believed they were treated unfairly and are courageously standing up for their rights," he said.