Attorney General’s Office wins next step in case against landlord Steven Meldahl
Court issues temporary injunction that expands scope of earlier order to require that Meldahl get properties inspected, inform tenants of rights to inspection, and stop charging more than 8 percent for late fees
Meldahl, who brags about evicting 99 percent of his tenants, has been cited more than 1,300 times in last 10 years for City housing-code violations
October 17, 2019 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that his office has obtained a temporary injunction that requires Steven Meldahl — the landlord of 25 properties in North Minneapolis — to seek inspections of all his rental properties, inform his tenants of their rights to inspection, and stop increasing his tenants’ rent in an attempt to get around the 8-percent statutory cap on late fees. The temporary injunction is the latest development in Attorney General Ellison’s lawsuit against Meldahl that alleges Meldahl preys on low-income tenants in a systematic and widespread “eviction for profit” scheme.
“The job of the Attorney General’s office is to help people afford their life and live with dignity and respect. One way we do that is by protecting consumers from fraud and abuse. Tenants are consumers who deserve that protection, too,” Attorney General Ellison said.
“I’m glad we’ve won the next step in our case against Steven Meldahl and his ‘eviction for profit’ scheme that violates law and common decency. I’m going to keep using the powers of my office to protect tenants the same as we protect all Minnesota consumers,” Ellison concluded.
Timeline of the case
On September 30, Attorney General Ellison’s office filed a civil lawsuit against Meldahl, who sometimes does business as S.J.M. Properties, Inc. The State alleges that Meldahl:
- misrepresents tenants’ legal rights to habitable housing and unlawfully shifts the burden of making housing repairs, even normal wear and tear, from himself, as the law requires, onto his tenants;
- deceptively tells his tenants that they cannot have their homes inspected by local authorities without his permission; and
- charges his tenants late fees that exceed those allowed under law.
These allegations represent violations of the State’s Consumer Fraud Act, Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and the Covenants of Habitability, as well as of State law regulating late fees. The Attorney General’s office seeks permanent injunctive relief, restitution for harmed tenants, civil penalties, and attorneys’ fees.
On October 1, Hennepin County District Court Judge Patrick Robben issued a temporary restraining order preventing Meldahl from retaliating against his tenants when they contact city housing inspectors.
Late Monday, October 14, Judge Robben replaced the temporary restraining order with a temporary injunction that will last until final judgment in the case. He expanded the temporary injunction beyond the scope of the earlier temporary restraining order to, among other things, require Meldahl additionally to:
- Send a letter within 5 business days to the City of Minneapolis to request inspections for all rental properties he owns or operates;
- Cooperate with the Attorney General’s office to send a letter within 10 business days to all his residents advising them that:
- they are not prohibited from contacting inspectors or giving inspectors access to their without Meldahl’s presence or permission;
- Meldahl will stop increasing his tenants’ rents as a punishment for paying their rent late on top of his existing 8% late fee; and
- Meldahl will not enforce provisions in their leases on these two issues.
The Court also barred Meldahl from fining or attempting to evict any tenant based on their reports to city inspectors.
In his Monday ruling, Judge Robben found that the State is likely to prevail on the merits of its claims that Meldahl violated the State consumer protection laws. He wrote, “Under Minnesota law, tenants have an unwaivable right to report habitability concerns to the local authorities, without retaliation, as well as to live in habitable housing that complies with health and safety laws.” (pp. 4–5)
Meldahl’s eviction-for-profit scheme
The State alleges that Meldahl forces his low-income tenants to pay large security deposits and high monthly rent to live in dilapidated houses, which Meldahl not only refuses to adequately repair but requires his tenants to repair, contrary to law. Meldahl also requires tenants to sign leases that illegally forbid them from seeking health and safety inspections and repairs and threatens retaliation if they do. If they do, Meldahl evicts them — then refuses to return their security deposits, which he has sometimes required in amounts as high as $2,000 or more.
Meldahl has bragged that he has evicted 99 percent of his tenants. He has called himself “the most experienced inner-city landlord probably in the history of the city.”
Even though Meldahl has illegally suppressed inspections, City of Minneapolis housing inspectors have cited him for more than 1,300 housing-code violations at his rental properties since 2009.
Attorney General Ellison encourages anyone who has been victimized by Steven Meldahl and S.J.M. Properties, Inc. to file complaints with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296-3353 (Metro area) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota), emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or submitting an online complaint form on the Attorney General’s website at www.ag.state.mn.us/Office/Complaint.asp.