Minneapolis landlord Stephen Frenz, who was stripped of his rental licenses by the city and recently settled a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit, faces a new legal challenge: a perjury charge.
According to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday, Frenz lied in an affidavit about the number of people living in one of his apartment buildings in an effort to dismiss a lawsuit raised by housing advocates clamoring for better conditions.
Frenz used several tactics to make it seem as if people lived in three vacant units in the 17-unit building at 3057 14th Av. S.: He secured phony leases from employees, manipulated records and indicated that the units were occupied during an inspection, according to the complaint.
The exaggerated number of tenants was included in an affidavit filed in March 2016, which was later redacted after plaintiffs accused Frenz of falsifying the leases. Frenz's attorneys quit following the accusation.
The county rarely charges people with perjury, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a news conference Wednesday morning.
"This one was really blatant," he said. "He not only lied about it in writing, he manufactured the evidence and went to great lengths to do this."
Frenz was summoned for an initial court hearing set for Feb. 8. Although the maximum penalty for the charge is a $10,000 fine or five years in jail, the presumptive sentence would be probation, according to the County Attorney's Office.
Frenz and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
The 2016 lawsuit, supported by Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia, or United Renters for Justice, accused Frenz of failing to deal with heating problems and infestations of roaches, mice and other pests in the building. Frenz's affidavit had argued that the suit was not approved by the majority of tenants, which is required to bring forth litigation.
In support of the affidavit was a tenant ledger that claimed three people were leasing three units, as well as invoices from a pest control company indicating that people lived in those units. Frenz also led an inspection of the building.
According to the criminal complaint, one of those three units was "very sparsely furnished, with a bed and a pot on the stove." Another unit had "some children's shoes, but no toys, clothing or other items that would be expected if a child was living there."
"Any parent knows that wherever kids are, there are toys, so it was obviously set up to look like people were living there," Freeman said.
An employee for the pest control company had testified in 2016 that Frenz had asked him to resend invoices for his work in the building, this time without the word "vacant" for those three units.
In 2018, authorities reached out to a former and a current employee of Frenz, both of whom said they had signed leases for the units but had no plans to move in. One of those employees said Frenz told him he could use the apartment to house friends who came from Mexico.
They were unable to confirm that the other name on the tenant ledger was a real person.
Freeman said that the charge stems from a basic tenet of the judicial system.
"You need to be truthful in court," he said.
Jennifer Arnold, a director of Inquilinxs Unidxs, said Wednesday that she did not know Frenz was going to be charged by the county.
"I think it means a lot that they are paying attention to the situation that renters are in," she said.
Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal, who pushed for the city to pull Frenz's rental licenses, said her office would "fully support the county attorney's actions in pursuing these charges."
The criminal charge is the latest in a series of recent developments involving Frenz's embattled properties.
In October, he and landlord Spiros Zorbalas settled an $18.5-million class-action lawsuit affecting thousands of tenants, the largest settlement of its kind in state history. Last month, a Hennepin County District Court referee reversed Frenz's eviction of tenants from a different building.
A hearing concerning the class-action lawsuit is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.