In the latest of legal sanctions against Stephen Frenz, the longtime Minneapolis landlord was charged on Wednesday with a single count of perjury by Hennepin Country Attorney Mike Freeman. The charge relates to a complaint filed in tenants’ remedies court.
The charge relates back to a complaint originally filed Jan. 20, 2016 by the neighborhood organization IX of Powderhorn Park. It demanded that Frenz fix housing issues—including inadequate heat, compromised security, and infestation of mice, bedbugs, roaches and other insects—at the 17-unit apartment structure he owned at 3057 14th Avenue South in Minneapolis.
But before the complaint could be brought to court, the neighborhood organization was required to have written permission from a majority of the building’s apartment dwellers. Frenz claimed, in a motion on March 2, 2016, that IX of Powderhorn Park did not have a majority because three occupied units were not included.
Frenz’s own lawyers eventually withdrew the motion shortly after the filing was made. The perjury charge against Frenz, 55, stems from that claim, as investigators believe Frenz’s claim was not true.
“We rarely charge people with perjury because it is hard to prove that someone is outright lying, as opposed to forgetting a fact or making slight changes in their testimony,” Freeman said in a statement. “But we think we can prove that Mr. Frenz worked hard to falsify documents and lean on employees to sign leases even though they were not expected to move into the apartment.”
The investigation was conducted by Minneapolis police and launched at the request of the housing court referee.
An employee of Frenz’s property management company told the police the tenant ledger submitted to the court for the three units in question did not align with the company’s actual records, and they in fact, had no residents by the given names living in the building.
Additionally, investigators claim a pest control professional hired by Frenz said that Frenz told him he’d lost an invoice for recent work, and asked him to submit a new invoice for the three units. According to court documents, Frenz did not mention in the document that the units were vacant.
Investigators were also able to track down two of the three people Frenz claimed lived in the units, and they admitted to signing a lease as a favor to Frenz, even though they had never lived in the apartments, nor did they plan to ever actually move in.
This perjury charge comes less than three months after Frenz settled a substantial class-action lawsuit against himself and a partner, Spiros Zorbalas. It was the highest ever class action-lawsuit payout in Minnesota—$18.5 million—and covered legal fees and reparation to 5,400 tenants impacted by the landlords’ allegedly fraudulent actions. The case also resulted in Zorbalas and Frenz losing their rental licenses.
A court date for Frenz’s perjury charge has not yet been set.