A Minneapolis landlord whose rental licenses were revoked by the City Council in 2017 is now facing a felony perjury charge.
Stephen Frenz, 55, allegedly lied on a sworn affidavit in 2016 in an attempt to have a housing court referee dismiss a tenants’ action brought against him and two of his companies. The referee ultimately ruled in favor of the tenants, and in a September 2016 order wrote that “Frenz engaged in a deliberate and elaborate misrepresentation” about the number of occupied units in the building, fabricating leases and invoices from a pest control company.
Frenz received notice of the charge in a summons and is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 8.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Wednesday that perjury charges are infrequently brought and difficult to prove, but Frenz was “really blatant” in his attempt to lie under oath.
“This one I’d like to try myself, because this one’s a winner,” said Freeman, who typically handles just one of his office’s cases personally each year.
The 2016 tenants’ action was filed against Frenz by renter-advocacy group IX of Powderhorn Park, also known as Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia, on behalf of the residents of 3057 14th Ave. S., who wanted Frenz to address a number of concerns about the property, including inadequate heat, pest infestations and building security. Under state law, the tenants’ action could only proceed if a majority of the 17-unit building’s tenants signed on.
According to the criminal complaint, Frenz tried to make it appear as if IX of Powderhorn Park didn’t have a majority of tenants on its side, allegedly recruiting one current and one former employee to sign leases for two of the building’s unoccupied units, although neither lived in the apartments. A Minneapolis police sergeant investigating the perjury claims found no evidence that the name on the third lease was a real person.
Freeman said an inspector who toured the property with Frenz noted one of the supposedly occupied apartments did not appear to have anyone living in it.
“The apartment was furnished as follows: a bed, a pot on the stove and two pairs of kids shoes,” Freeman said. “Now, any parent knows that wherever kids are there are toys. It was obviously set up to look like people were living there.”
Frenz allegedly also contacted a pest control company that worked in the building, urging them to alter and resubmit an invoice for services that listed the three units as vacant, according to the criminal complaint.
Frenz’s claims in the affidavit were later contradicted in housing court testimony provided by a controller for The Apartment Shop, Frenz’s Whittier-based company.
Not long after the affidavit was submitted, Frenz’s attorneys filed a new version of the document that removed references to the three apartments. They then withdrew from the case.
Said Freeman, “In cases like this, it’s time for the county attorney’s office to step up, to insist and support the courts in making sure that truth is presented in court.”
In October, Frenz and another landlord, Spiros Zorbalas, settled a class-action lawsuit involving thousands of their former tenants for $18.5 million. The City Council took dozens of rental licenses from Zorbalas in 2011; Frenz purchased the properties, but it was later discovered that Zorbalas maintained a financial stake in them even while his rental license was suspended.