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Former tenant sues landlord at Minneapolis duplex where fire killed 5

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The landlord of a north Minneapolis duplex where a February fire killed five children now faces a lawsuit from a previous tenant of the building.

MPR News reports Dianna Shonville Jones, who moved out of the building's upstairs apartment at the end of September, is suing landlord Paul Bertelson.

As MPR notes, the bulk of Jones' lawsuit accuses Bertelson of financial malfeasance, but it also alleges that the electrical system was in poor condition and that Bertelson had been notified and failed to repair it. The suit claims, for example, that electrical sockets sparked and produced shocks.

Less than five months after Jones moved out, Troy Lewis told reporters the fire that killed five of his seven children was the result of a faulty heating system at the duplex on Colfax Ave. Lewis said only two of the unit's baseboard heaters worked and he kept the stove lit and a space heater running to keep his family warm. Bertelson maintained that the heat in the apartment was working and he'd received no complaints from Lewis.

Investigators were unable to determine the cause of the fire but said they consider it an accident.

MPR reports a city inspector threatened to condemn the building last August because of a lack of electricity, but the electrical problems were marked as resolved in September. The network reported last month that the city has received many complaints from tenants of the 38 rental properties that Bertelson manages.

The children killed in the February blaze ranged in age from 18 months to 8 years. Mayor Betsy Hodges and hundreds of others attended their funeral service. Lewis was injured when he jumped from a window to escape the fire. He says he then went back into the burning building for his children but only two daughters, aged 9 and 5, survived.

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