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Housing Justice Center
Richfield residents file federal class action lawsuit alleging discrimination by landlord
On Monday, February 2nd 2016, a group of 35 current and former tenants of the 698-unit Richfield rental complex Concierge Apartments (formerly Crossroads at Penn Apartments) filed a Class Action Fair Housing lawsuit (click for PDF copy) in U.S. District Court against their landlord Soderberg Apartment Specialists (SAS) and MSP Crossroads Apartments LLC (MSP). Represented by the Housing Justice Center, a St. Paul-based public interest law firm, the residents argue that the recent business practices of SAS & MSP related to their repositioning of the apartment complex in the market, intensive re-screening of tenants, and substantial rent increases have had a disparate impact on a large group of people covered under federal protected classes including race, disability, familial status and national origin. Joining them in the lawsuit is HOME Line, a statewide nonprofit tenant advocacy group, who further alleges that these drastic changes will continue to cause harm to many future prospective tenants who would have made it their home had it remained affordable.
Tim Thompson, lead attorney for the Plaintiffs, explained “the lawsuit seeks to stop and roll back the series of actions by the owner driving out current tenants. This could include the exorbitant rent increases, the overly restrictive admission requirements and the refusal to participate in programs essential to low income and disabled tenants.” The residents also seek financial damages for harm as a result of the discriminatory displacement.
“Our homes were decent, safe, and affordable…until Soderberg took over with a plan to strategically displace households that didn’t fit their discriminatory vision,” said Linda Soderstrom, a 5-year resident of the apartments who relies on a Section 8 voucher. “The owner talked about doing an extreme makeover of the building. This is not just the building—it’s an extreme makeover of the tenant population in the building.”
SAS and MSP took ownership of the property in September 2015 and immediately gave notices to vacate to all residents. The owner estimated that 2,230 people lived in the complex at that time–accounting for over one in every 17 Richfield residents based on Census data. The notice required all to reapply for their residency under much stricter and discriminatory criteria, even those who have lived at Crossroads for years. The new landlord has explicitly stated that they will stop accepting Section 8 vouchers and their new rent levels and screening criteria limit the use of the Group Residential Housing (GRH) program, which help subsidize housing for formerly homeless lower-income residents and people with disabilities. Between those two programs over 130 residents face displacement. Others, despite their long and positive rental history at the complex, are unable to comply with a minimum 625 credit score or policies against previous financial and housing background issues such as bankruptcies. All of these actions make it very likely that a large percentage of current residents will be displaced by the middle of 2016. Based on estimated vacancies thus far in January, nearly 160 households have likely moved out already.
The new owner of the apartments, Jim Soderberg, made clear his opinions of people living in his new properties in a November 17, 2015 Star Tribune article: “When you get to the point where things are so rundown, you attract undesirable residents,” he said. “You get to the point where good, responsible people don’t want to live in these apartments.”
Units are being renovated with the explicit goal of increasing property value and cost of rent to the tenants of around $100-200 per month, which for some is over a 25% increase from current rents. Households with children and those without documentation are finding the new occupancy standard of 2 persons per bedroom–well below local codes–and Social Security number requirements to be a needless cause for displacement. “Just because we’re low-income does not mean we do not have human rights. We may not be millionaires but we cared for our homes. I wish the owner got to know who we were as members of the Latino community as we are not the undesirables as he has described,” said Aurora Saenz, a Latina tenant who moved out due to concerns about the landlords occupancy standards for families with children.
Eric Hauge, an organizer with HOME Line stated “This is perhaps the largest source of unsubsidized affordable rental housing in the Twin Cities Region; its loss would be a tremendous blow to the region’s collective efforts to narrow the huge gap between demand and supply for affordable housing, and it will exacerbate harmful gentrification trends if left unchallenged.” The removal in one fell swoop of 698 units from the supply of deeply affordable units in effect largely cancels out the addition of the 759 new affordable units produced in the region in 2014, the most recent year for which there’s data from the Met Council.
“I’ve paid my rent since I moved there in 2011,” said Maria Johnson, an African-American tenant who after 4 years at the complex was forced to move to a more expensive unit last November because of imperfect credit. “They didn’t take into account anything about our good rental history here at Crossroads…it was just ‘out with the undesirables.’”
“This was a community that supported each other. It was a place that had allowed me to take important steps for my education and employment so I could finish with my GRH program,” said Deborah Suminguit, a current resident. “I have felt safe, confident, and comfortable to sign up for a third year and intended not to worry about my future–that I could make it happen here at Crossroads.”
HOME Line is excited to announce publication of this new guide for Minneapolis renters. What Repairs Are Required in My Apartment is a visual guide created as a collaborative effort between the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), Minneapolis neighborhoods, and housing organizations who support tenant organizing.
The guide aims to increase awareness and use of City of Minneapolis ordinance that governs health, safety and welfare conditions in rental housing, known as the Housing Maintenance Code. Content of the guide has been reviewed and approved by the City of Minneapolis Department of Regulatory Services for consistency with city laws and policies.
Residents and neighborhood board members identified the need for this guide after observing that city housing inspectors do not prioritize communication with renters or promote understand of renter rights provided by existing city laws. “Many of my neighbors are afraid to take action to make the landlord perform health and safety repairs in our buildings,” said Edaín Altamirano, Board Member of Corcoran Neighborhood Organization and a project team member for this guide. “Knowing our rights as renters and what the city’s law says is an important first step towards housing justice.”
Sections of the guide review common repair problems as defined by the city’s Housing Maintenance Code, as well as actions steps a renter should take and record to have the repair problem addressed. This includes how to communicate repair needs to the landlord, how to obtain a housing inspection through Minneapolis’ 3-1-1 system, and how to pursue remedies through Hennepin County Housing Court.
The guide is available in English and Spanish languages. A first run of copies are being offered to Minneapolis neighborhood groups for distribution thanks to funding from CURA and a grant from the City of Minneapolis Community Innovation Fund.
Community members are invited to participate in an upcoming “Cafe Con Alondra” forum about renter rights hosted by Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano on Monday, December 7th, 2015 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Corcoran Park Recreation Center located at 3334 20th Ave S.
Additional materials/resources provided by Minneapolis Renters Coalition (comprised of the neighborhood associations and housing advocacy organizations) can be found online as part of the Tenant Organizing Toolkit.
The speeches, “Tips from a Tenant Attorney, Laws Every Minnesota Landlord Should Understand” focuses on key issues that cause problems between landlords and tenants. Additionally, learn about new laws that took effect in the last few years.
All trainings take place at HOME Line’s office (3455 Bloomington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55407):
Monday, January 11, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line Monday, February 8, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, March 14, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, April 18, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, May 16, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, June 6, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, July 11, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, August 15, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, September 19, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, October 17, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, November 14, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
- Monday, December 12, from 2:00 – 4:30 at HOME Line
Please note: This course is recognized by the City of Minneapolis as covering the Fundamentals of Property Management. This can be up to a $250 savings for “point of conversion” fees (going from a non-rental to a rental unit). Learn more about this discount here.
Along with the new laws, topics to be covered will include:
- Fair Housing Complaints- What Starts Them?
- The Application Process
- Caretakers/On-site Staff
- Security Deposits
- When Can a Landlord Enter an Apartment?
- Rent Increases
- How to Give a Notice to Vacate
HOME Line attorneys have given speeches to landlord groups throughout Minnesota, covering a wide variety of landlord/tenant law topics. HOME Line is now offering a two-hour training conducted by Managing Attorney, Michael Vraa. Mike has personally spoken over 105 different groups of landlords in his 19 years of experience as an attorney working exclusively on landlord/tenant law.
“I was very skeptical that this wasn’t going to be much more than a very basic landlord class. Boy was I wrong! This class was informative and interesting…I recommend that every landlord take this class. It was invaluable.”
-Scott Ficek, Real Estate Agent
“In my practice, I frequently represent residential Landlords and receive phone calls from prospective clients asking, ‘What do I need to know about being a Landlord?’ My answer these days: Read HOME Line’s How to be the Smartest Renter on Your Block.”
-Jason T. Hutchinson, Attorney at Law
The cost to register online is $50 per attendee.
Our brand new book designed specifically for Minnesota landlords and managers, The Landlord’s Guide to Minnesota Law, will available for at a reduced rate of $20 (regularly $25) if purchased in advance, and can be picked up at the training. It addresses every landlord-tenant legal issue that is likely to arise over the course of a lease.
Additionally, our book designed for tenants covering Minnesota tenant landlord/law, How to be the Smartest Renter on Your Block is also available for at a reduced rate of $15 (regularly $20) if purchased in advance, and can be picked up at the training.
To register, please fill out the form below and it will allow you to pay online. If you prefer to pay with a check, you can register by contacting Deb at 612-728-5770 (x109) or at email@example.com. Additionally, if a management company or other agency would like to hire a HOME Line attorney to give a speech at your office, contact Deb.
HOME Line announces publication of The Landlord’s Guide to Minnesota Law, a legal guide for landlords that addresses every landlord-tenant legal issue that is likely to arise over the course of a lease. Click for more information and to order your copy.