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Landlord who forced tenant to quit townhome to pay $3,500 fine

Attorney General Ellison has settled its lawsuit against the landlord.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison's office has resolved the action it took against a Dakota County landlord who forced her tenants to move out in violation of Gov. Tim Walz's executive order. 

Ellison had filed a lawsuit against landlord Joanna Wentzlaff in February, alleging she attempted to violate one of the governor's COVID-19 executive orders when she forced her tenant to move out of the Apple Valley townhome she owns, and falsely claimed she or her family member needed to move into her rental property.

Instead, she directed her real estate agent to kick her tenants out with days' notice in order to put her property on the market, Ellison claimed. Wentzlaff's tenants reported her to Ellison's office. 

Under Gov. Tim Walz's Executive Order 20-79, tenants can't be evicted unless it meets one of a few exemptions, including if a property owner or their family need to live there. 

The AG announced Wednesday his office won relief for the tenants, noting the court's consent judgment requires Wentzlaff to pay $3,573.86 to reimburse the tenants for their out-of-pocket costs in being forced out of the home. 

The judgment 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,” Ellison said in a statement. 

“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.”

A moratorium on evictions was implemented during the pandemic to prevent a flurry of evictions in the wake of surging unemployment. Legislators are currently discussing an "off ramp" for the moratorium.

Ellison's office has received nearly 3,000 consumer complaints related to executive order violations and it has filed eight enforcement actions against landlords for violating the governor's orders. 

All but one have now been resolved. A lawsuit against a landlord in Pine County who is accused of going into a tenant's home and disconnecting their electricity to get them to move out is in litigation. 

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