Tenants to share in $750K settlement with landlord over harassment claims

apartment for rent
A sign advertises an apartment for rent in New York City. A federal judge on Monday ordered a Minneapolis landlord to pay $750,000 to settle allegations of sexual harassment against his tenants, who are mostly single Black mothers.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images 2016

Updated: 7:04 p.m.

A federal judge on Monday ordered a Minneapolis landlord to pay $750,000 to settle allegations of sexual harassment against his tenants.

Plaintiff's attorneys say property owner Reese Pfeiffer repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward his tenants, who are mostly single Black mothers.

In a Fair Housing Act lawsuit, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid alleged that Pfeiffer filed eviction notices against tenants over phony charges, then told them that they could "work it out" by having sex with him.

According to the civil complaint, Pfeiffer suddenly told Shatara Brown in June 2019 that she owed him $4,000, then tried to evict her after she refused his sexual advances. Brown, who’d been homeless for a time, rented a home from Pfeiffer in Crystal, Minn., even though she had heard about his alleged harassment of female tenants.

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Pfeiffer allegedly told Brown, “I know a way you can catch up on your rent, but you just won’t give in.”

Brown, 35, who still lives in the same home, said she’s happy with the settlement but still suffers from anxiety.

“Sometimes when I'm home by myself I don't really want to be because I'm scared and fear that someone might come and someone might pop up or something," Brown said.

Brown told MPR News that Pfeiffer took advantage of her when she was in a vulnerable situation, and she urged others who may be in a similar situation to ask for legal help.

“I always felt that it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right,” Brown said. “And I took my information and what he did to legal support to try to get things under control.”

Under a consent decree, Pfeiffer and his business associates are permanently banned from entering any of their occupied rental properties and from contacting tenants. They must also hire an independent manager to oversee the business.

Legal Aid attorney Rebecca Stillman said the decree, signed by U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright on Monday, is a victory for tenants.

"We put an alleged predator of single Black women out of the property management business," Stillman said.

Twenty-three tenants will each receive $32,000, and Pfeiffer must pay a $14,000 civil penalty to the federal government. The agreement also resolves a second lawsuit from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Pfeiffer declined to comment to MPR News when reached by phone. His attorneys did not respond to emailed requests for comment.