A Minneapolis landlord has been convicted of lying in a sworn affidavit in order to avoid a lawsuit from his beleaguered tenants.
Stephen Frenz was found guilty of perjury on Friday afternoon and is now facing possible jail time.
The charges against him stem from an elaborate scheme he concocted to avoid a 2016 class-action lawsuit from his renters.
According to a news release from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, Frenz inflated the number of renters at his property, reporting three non-existent occupants to the courts in a sworn affidavit.
Why? The tenants' organization behind the lawsuit needed approval from a majority of renters to be accepted in court; Frenz's ploy would have robbed them of that majority and prevented the suit from going forward.
He's accused of having gone to great lengths to carry this out.
As the Star Tribune reported, the three apartments were staged to look occupied, with names on mailboxes, false leases and "children’s shoes, but no toys, and a small amount of furniture" inside.
Additionally, a pest control worker who sprayed the three apartments and marked them as vacant on his invoice testified that "Frenz asked him to submit a new invoice for the three units and not include the word vacant," the Hennepin County attorney says.
The tenants were suing Frenz over poor and unsafe living conditions.
MPR notes that renters reported the apartments "were infested with mice and other pests, and that they had no heat and broken appliances."
The station says Frenz and his business partner were ordered to pay $18.5 million to settle the case last year.
Despite this, his renters are apparently still at odds with him.
According to a Facebook post from InquilinXs UnidXs por Justicia (United Renters for Justice), a grassroots group that advocates for better housing in Minneapolis, 40 families at Frenz's properties "continue to face evictions" from the landlord:
And, the group says, Frenz has refused their attempt to buy the buildings from him, despite the fact that they have raised enough money to meet his asking price.
As for Frenz's legal fate, Hennepin County Attorney Freeman said "he did not know what kind of a sentence his office would request from the judge," and noted that "the recommended sentence under the state’s guidelines is probation."
Nonetheless, Freeman said his office may request a large fine, and added that time in the county workhouse and community service may also be possible.