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Can You Evict a Landlord? These Tenants Did

Nov 24, 2020 by Maurie Backman
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Evictions have been in the news a lot lately, especially with the moratoriums enacted in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the backlash from landlords nationwide. But generally, evictions are procedures that landlords initiate when tenants fail to adhere to the terms of their leases, whether by violating property rules or not paying rent.

But one group of Minneapolis tenants actually did something pretty amazing this year: They succeeded in turning the tables, effectively evicting their landlord. Here's how they pulled it off.

When tenants join forces to fight back

For years, a group of Minneapolis tenants in five buildings in the city's Corcoran neighborhood fought to revoke their landlord's rental license. Stephen Frenz, the landlord in question, had apparently ignored his tenants' numerous pleas for better living conditions, so those tenants banded together and pushed their city council to bar Frenz from collecting rent.

Those tenants won that battle, but there was one problem -- Frenz still owned the buildings they lived in. In fact, Frenz specifically wanted those buildings vacated so he could renovate those properties and sell them at a premium. The tenants, in turn, came up with a plan to buy Frenz's five buildings while filing a class action lawsuit against him.

In the end, they not only won the suit, but an $18.5 million payout, more than $13 million of which was earmarked for over 4,400 tenants who had lived in unsuitable conditions for years. Land Bank Twin Cities then agreed to purchase the five buildings in question for $4.85 million and sell them back to the tenants at no interest.

An important lesson learned

Though not every landlord-tenant dispute will end in a multi-million-dollar payout for tenants and the stripping of a landlord's rental license, the takeaway here is that tenants ought to remember they do have rights -- the right to a habitable home and the right to timely repairs when things break. A landlord who refuses to comply with these rights is automatically in violation of the law, so tenants shouldn't hesitate to pursue legal remedies when a landlord is not compliant.

The Minneapolis case also highlights the importance of tenants banding together to fight for their rights. In the legal world, there's often strength in numbers, and that certainly contributed to the end result of the aforementioned lawsuit.

Of course, this should also serve as a cautionary tale for landlords of rental properties -- namely, eviction can work both ways (albeit while playing out a bit differently). Landlords can lose their income-generating ability if they fail to follow local laws, so it's in their best interest to be compliant, even if that means having to sink money into property improvements and fixes.

Landlords should also recognize that now that a precedent has been set, tenants may be more apt to mobilize -- and what happened in Minneapolis should serve as a warning and wakeup call that the days of pushing boundaries with tenants may be long over.

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