Attorney General Ellison wins relief for tenants whose landlord falsely claimed she needed to move in in order to kick the tenants out

Landlord to pay former tenants $3.5K, comply with executive orders protecting tenant rights in resolution of enforcement action for violating Executive Order 20-79

AG’s office has received nearly 3K complaints of EO violations; seven of eight total enforcement actions AG’s office has filed now resolved

May 19, 2021 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that his office has resolved an enforcement action against a landlord who forced her tenants out of their home in violation of Executive Order 20-79, which protects tenants from eviction during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency. 

Attorney General Ellison’s office sued Dakota County landlord Joanna Wentzlaff in February, alleging that Wentzlaff used an exemption in Executive Order 20-79, which permits landlords to terminate a lease if they need to move into the property themselves, as a pretext to force her tenants out so that she could sell her home. Wentzlaff falsely claimed she or a family member needed to move into the rental property, when in reality she had already hired a real estate agent to help her sell it. The property in Apple Valley has since been sold.   

The consent judgment entered by the court requires Wentzlaff to pay $3,573.86 in part to reimburse the tenants for their out-of-pocket costs in being forced out, and also requires Wentzlaff to remain in compliance with the Governor’s executive orders protecting tenant rights. 

“Having a safe and affordable roof over your head is essential to living with dignity and respect. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s also been essential to protecting people’s lives,” Attorney General Ellison said. “The vast majority of landlords have done the right thing by their tenants and their communities during the pandemic: for those that have not, this case shows once again that my office will hold landlords accountable who violate the executive orders and put the health of their communities and the lives of their tenants at risk.” 

Under Governor Walz’s Emergency Executive Order 20-79, property owners are prohibited from filing eviction actions, terminating residential leases, or issuing notices of non-renewal for the duration of the COVID-19 peacetime emergency.  An exemption to the Executive Order permits property owners, however, to terminate or not renew a lease “due to the need to move the property owner or property owner’s family member(s) into the property” as long as the “property owner or property owner’s family member(s) move into the property within 7 days after it is vacated by the tenant.”   

Attorney General Ellison’s office, which has the authority to enforce Executive Order 20-79, has fielded nearly 3,000 consumer complaints since the peacetime emergency was declared. The office has filed eight enforcement actions against landlords for violating those orders and has now resolved seven. A lawsuit against a Pine County landlord who forced his way into his tenants’ home and disconnected their electricity in an effort to force them out of the home is currently in litigation. 

Attorney General Ellison encourages Minnesotans to report any suspected violations of Executive Order 20-79, which suspends evictions and lease terminations during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency, by filling out the dedicated Tenant Eviction Complaint Form on the front page of the Attorney General’s website. Attorney General Ellison’s website also features dedicated links for price-gouging complaints and for other COVID-19-related complaints.  Minnesotans can also report violations by calling Attorney General Ellison’s office at (651) 296-3353 (Metro) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota).