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Longtime Minneapolis landlord faces perjury charge

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Stephen Frenz walks into the courtroom after a lunch break on Thursday.
Stephen Frenz walks into the courtroom after a lunch break on September 7, 2017.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News

A Minneapolis landlord involved in one of the country's largest class-action housing-related lawsuits is facing yet another legal challenge.

Last fall, Stephen Frenz and his former partner, Spiros Zorbalas, were ordered to pay $18.5 million to settle the class-action case with their tenants.

On Wednesday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced a perjury charge against Frenz.

Perjury cases are rare because they're typically hard to prove, Freeman said, but the blatancy of Frenz's efforts stands out.

"He not only lied about it in writing, [but] he manufactured the evidence," he said.

The allegation traces back to Frenz's attempt to block the 2016 class action. His tenants claimed the owners did not keep their buildings safe, that the apartments were infested with mice and pests and that they had no heat and broken appliances.

But to sue as a group, the tenants needed a majority, which they had.

However, court documents say Frenz fabricated tenants to make it seem that he had votes in his favor to try to stop the lawsuit. Frenz took a vacant apartment and staged it to look like a family was living there.

"The apartment was furnished as follows: a bed, a pot on the stove and 2 pairs of kids shoes," Freeman said. "Now any parent knows that wherever kids are there are toys."

That was one of many red flags.

"His attorneys withdrew and refused to participate," Freeman said, as another.

In a sworn affidavit, Frenz allegedly falsified apartment leases and inspection invoices. Turns out the leases were signed by former employees and the inspection invoices were intended to make it look like the units were occupied.

"Mr. Frenz has been pretty aggressive in trying to defend what some of us think are unconscionable conduct," Freeman said. "This time he got caught."

Freeman said he usually personally tries one case a year. This year, if possible and if it goes to trial, he'd like it to be this one.

Frenz, who is not in custody and was charged by summons, has his first appearance set for Feb. 8. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

The City of Minneapolis revoked Frenz's landlord license in 2017.

MPR News producer Max Nesterak contributed to this report.