A pro bono team from Minnesota’s largest law firm, Faegre Baker Daniels, recently secured major legal victories for hundreds of low-income tenants in Minneapolis.
Building on the firm’s years-long pro bono efforts on behalf of low-income tenants, these recent matters stripped illegally-operating Minneapolis landlords of their ability to continue renting apartments, appointed administrators, and provided relief to anxious tenants who have been living in limbo in unlicensed buildings. With these successes, FaegreBD’s Housing Advocacy Housing Team is helping to make significant improvements to the affordable housing landscape for tenants in Minneapolis.
On Dec. 19, after a recent hearing at which FaegreBD attorney Michael Cockson argued on behalf of low-income residents of five separate apartment buildings, the Hennepin County Housing Court ruled that Misco Holdings was illegally operating rental buildings without a license. Rickey Misco claims he purchased the properties this fall on a contract-for-deed sale from banned landlords Stephen Frenz and Spiros Zorbalas, who are prohibited from having an interest in rental licenses and rental properties in Minneapolis. The court appointed an administrator to oversee the buildings and ordered Misco to return all rent he collected from the tenants—an amount of nearly $150,000.
The Misco case follows on FaegreBD’s earlier pro bono tenant remedies litigation (IX of Powderhorn Park v. Frenz), in which FaegreBD uncovered an elaborate scheme by Frenz and Zorbalas to conceal that the majority of rent from buildings operated by Frenz was still secretly flowing to Zorbalas after he was banned by the city from having an interest in rental properties. On Dec. 8, as a direct result of FaegreBD’s discovery in that case, the Minneapolis City Council revoked Frenz’s rental license for all 60 properties he operated.
In response to an emerging crisis, the FaegreBD pro bono team brought a similar tenant remedies action on behalf of a neighborhood organization, IX of North Minneapolis, that sought relief for six low-income families who, along with over 60 other families, were facing removal from their homes after landlord Mahmood Khan had finally exhausted his appeals after being stripped of his rental licenses as a result of multiple housing code violations, including over one thousand violations in a two-year span. In recent weeks, the city and other stakeholders had been working to develop a comprehensive plan to support and re-house affected families in a rental market that has an affordable housing vacancy rate of less than two percent. The Hennepin County Housing Court agreed with FaegreBD partner Jim Poradek, who argued that Khan was illegally operating his 43 rental homes and duplexes and that the families deserved relief. The court appointed an administrator to oversee the properties, allowing the tenants to remain in their homes while residential conditions are improved.