More than 100 people living in former landlord Stephen Frenz’s Minneapolis buildings learned that they can stay in their apartments, for now.
Residents and tenant advocates cheered in the middle of the Hennepin County Government Center on Monday after a judge canceled a trial that could have forced them to leave five buildings on the 3100 block of S. 22nd Avenue. Tenants are in an ongoing legal fight with Frenz, who lost his rental license in 2017 and has tried to evict them as he considers selling the buildings.
Hennepin County District Judge Laurie Miller threatened Friday to dismiss most of the eviction cases after Frenz and his legal team failed to go through proper channels before filing them. Frenz has to take the case back to Mark Labine, the court referee, for clarification on how to file the cases.
Frenz did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Residents have endured shoddy conditions in their apartments over the years, including bedbugs, cockroaches, mice and no heat. The court has appointed Lighthouse Management to collect rent and oversee the buildings until they are sold or the tenants have to leave.
In June, more than 4,300 current and former tenants received checks from a $12 million class-action settlement from a case involving Frenz and his former business associate Spiros Zorbalas.
On Monday, 30 people, including tenants, children and advocates with Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters for Justice), alternated chants and speeches in English and Spanish to celebrate the eviction delay.
“What we’ve been doing together is fighting very hard so that we can have a place to stay that is dignified and that’s correct and right for our neighborhood,” said Denise Herrera, a tenant in one of the buildings.
Riann Meyer, a staff attorney for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, said that while there is still a chance that residents could be evicted, the judge’s action was a welcome reprieve.
“It gives them assurance that they’re not going to be homeless in the next week or two weeks and it gives all parties a chance to step back and reach a settlement that’s best for everyone involved,” Meyer said.
Tenants are continuing their efforts to buy the five buildings from Frenz and turn them into permanent co-ops. Renters living in the buildings have been meeting and running the buildings together and raised more than $125,000 themselves to save their homes, according to Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia. A land bank has put up $7 million to finance purchasing the buildings, which meets Frenz’s reported asking price. But tenants at Monday’s rally said Frenz has not agreed to sell.
Frenz’s legal troubles began in 2016 after lawyers found that Zorbalas, another landlord whose rental license was revoked, still had a majority financial interest in Frenz’s properties and that they continued to operate the buildings together. Frenz was charged in January with perjury in connection to the case. He is due in Hennepin County District Court for a hearing Wednesday.