A major Minneapolis landlord, who faced a 90-day jail sentence for not producing documents in a long-running housing court case, has gotten a temporary reprieve.
Stephen Frenz, who was found in contempt of court last month, showed up with a stack of papers during a court hearing on Monday, but he said some of the material was not relevant to the case and he should not have to disclose it.
Housing Referee Mark Labine reviewed the documents in chambers after the hearing to assess which ones Frenz could continue to keep private.
Labine issued an order late Monday afternoon stating that he was staying his decision to jail Frenz as long as he continues to cooperate. A hearing to evaluate Frenz’s compliance will be held on May 15.
Frenz has been facing an avalanche of legal problems in connection with a lawsuit filed against him in January 2016 by a group representing tenants’ interests for an apartment house at 3057 14th Av. S. in Minneapolis over allegations of a faulty heating system, a lack of repairs and an infestation of mice, cockroaches and bedbugs.
Last September, Referee Jason Hutchison ruled in favor of the tenants and announced he was appointing an independent administrator to oversee repairs. In October, Frenz and his company, Apartment Shop, were ordered to turn over records to the administrator. In the meantime, Frenz sold the apartment house, but tenants’ attorneys successfully argued that the administrator should stay in place to get the repairs done.
By November, the tenants’ pro bono attorneys from Faegre Baker Daniels were arguing that Frenz had not complied with the order to provide records, and in subsequent hearings said that the new administrator, James Bartholomew, had not received sufficient information on mortgages. Bartholomew indicated he may need to get a new mortgage to pay for a new furnace, other repairs and administrative costs.
Frenz was found in contempt of court on March 28 and sentenced to 90 days. He was given until Monday to comply.
On other fronts, the city of Minneapolis is seeking to strip Frenz of all 62 of his rental licenses after the court case revealed that Spiros Zorbalas, a landlord barred from operating in Minneapolis, continued to have a financial interest in Frenz’s properties. Frenz had previously claimed he had bought out Zorbalas in 2012. An administrative hearing on that matter is scheduled for May 22.
On Feb. 3, Frenz was fined $187,390 by Hutchison and Ivy S. Bernhardson, chief Hennepin County District Judge — the largest fine in housing court history — for his “bad faith litigation conduct” that included falsifying tenant leases last year in an unsuccessful attempt to get Hutchison to dismiss the suit.