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Minnesota Attorney General Ellison sues Minneapolis landlord

Keith Ellison says the property owner exploits tenants

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Keith Ellison speaks to media inside the State Capitol.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison speaks to media inside the State Capitol on Jan. 15, 2019. The attorney general has sued a Minneapolis landlord, charging the property owner with failing to keep rental units livable, retaliating against tenants contacting housing inspectors and scheming to profit from evictions.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has sued a Minneapolis landlord, charging the property owner with failing to keep rental units livable, retaliating against tenants contacting housing inspectors and scheming to profit from evictions.

Ellison said Steven Meldahl — the landlord for 25 properties in north Minneapolis — forces low-income tenants to pay large security deposits and high monthly rents to live in dilapidated houses.

"He's bullying low-income moms, threatening to throw them out if they don't do what he says," Ellison said. "He violated the consumer fraud act, the deceptive trade practices act, covenants of habitability and state law governing late fees."

The attorney general said Meldahl evicts tenants who contact health and safety inspectors, pocketing security deposits in retaliation. Sometimes, those deposits have been $2,000 or more, Ellison said.

Ellison's office is seeking an injunction against Meldahl's alleged illegal practices, restitution for tenants, civil penalties and attorneys’ fees.

Minneapolis has cited Meldahl more than 1,300 times for housing-code violations. But the landlord blames tenants for virtually all of them.

"Probably 95 percent of them are tenant-caused damages," Meldahl said. "Under my lease, I give [tenants] five days to correct the problem and if they don't, we charge them.

Meldahl said the lawsuit is a form of harassment.

A 2015 survey found Meldahl ranked fourth among Minneapolis landlords for the number of eviction actions filed against tenants. The study found he tried to evict nearly 80 percent of his tenants.

Tenant advocates say a handful of landlords on the northside bake evictions into their business plans, requiring tenants to pay two or three months' rent as a deposit. Then, the advocates say, the landlords keep the deposits, along with court fees, when they evict.