North Minneapolis landlord accused of 'eviction for profit' scheme, preying on low-income tenants

Lawsuit from AG Keith Ellison claims he shifted burden of repair on tenants illegally

Sloane Martin
October 08, 2019 - 5:57 pm

Minnesota Attorney General Office

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A landlord with 25 properties in north Minneapolis is being sued by the state Attorney General's office.

Squirrels in the attic, rats, leaking toilets and conditions leading to sickness is how four tenants described living in the properties.
According to the lawsuit, Steven Meldahl and his SJM Properties illegally shifted the burden of repairs to tenants and signed into leases that they could not contact city inspectors. 

Attorney general Keith Ellison claims he preyed on low income tenants.

"If tenants do contact housing inspectors, Meldahl finds them illegally raises their rent, or evicts them, keeping their large security deposits, sometimes as high as $2,000 or more," he said. "We call this scheme eviction for profit."

Meldahl told WCCO-TV over the phone the clause has been removed. He said he wanted tenants to come to him and denied punishing tenants who went to housing inspectors.

The tenants described acrimonious and difficult communications, along with complaints about the housing conditions. They said they were afraid to take action for fear he would evict them, leaving them homeless. Vanisha Jemison recalled the time her mother was gravely ill.

"As she was dying I had to drive back and forth between Minnesota and Fargo, N.D.," she said. "One of the times I forgot to drop off the rent. He told me he didn't care about my mom dying and that he was raising my rent due to me having to leave and forgetting to get him his rent."

The AG's lawsuit seeks restitution and injunctive relief. Basically he'll be able to keep operating the properties, but he'll have to adhere to the law and maintain respectable housing. Meldahl's also facing a class action suit from Legal Aid Minnesota. According to Ellison's office, Minneapolis inspectors have cited him for more than 1,300 housing violations in the last decade. 

(All photos courtesy of Minnesota Attorney General's Office)

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