Facing eviction, residents hope to buy buildings from notorious Minneapolis landlord

Embattled landlord Stephen Frenz wants to evict them. They say they're not going anywhere.

Embattled landlord Stephen Frenz wants to evict them. They say they're not going anywhere. Hannah Jones

On a sunny, snow-melting day in downtown Minneapolis, a happy crowd of about 20 people gathered behind a barricade of signs in front of the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility. They held up posters that read “Here to stay,” and “Stop evictions,” and “Our neighbors are not for sale.” They sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” in both English and Spanish.

They were here to watch their former landlord, Stephen Frenz, face a hearing on a perjury charge. He's accused of lying about how many people were living in his buildings in order to dismiss another lawsuit about their unheated, bedbug-infested living conditions.

These demonstrators were tenants in five Corcoran neighborhood buildings still owned by Frenz after he was stripped of his rental licenses. They weren’t just there to enjoy the show. They were there to bargain. They want to buy their buildings from Frenz and run them themselves.

The neighbors -- most of them low-income -- have raised $125,000 through fundraising and setting aside their own money. They’re willing to offer Frenz almost $4.8 million for the property, provided they can get the loans and grants required to raise that sum. Frenz, so far, hasn’t been playing ball. Instead, he plans to evict them.

Arianna Feldman, an organizer for Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters for Justice), says they’re not really sure how much money it would take to make Frenz change his mind. The buildings were last sold for a cool $7 million. But, as tenant Chloe Jackson points out, it’s not like the properties are in mint condition.

“We think $7 million is a bit much considering the shape of the buildings,” she says. She and her neighbors have dealt with everything from busted pipes to cockroach infestations. Several neighbors are without heat right now, and she once had squirrels worm their way inside through a hole in her roof.

But still, it’s her home. It’s the first apartment she lived in after she moved to Minneapolis from Chicago. It’s right by the school her son attends. It’s where her neighbors -- a tight-knit, united front -- are, and it’s where she wants to be too.

“There aren’t too many neighborhoods like that,” she says.

Jackson is "1,000 percent sure” they’re going to get their buildings. If they do, the tenants plan to set up a housing cooperative and maintain the buildings themselves. They’d all contribute to a pool for whatever the buildings need, which would constitute their rent. They’d come together as a board and decide how the properties should be run.

The tenants are still teaching themselves the skills they need to own and manage their own homes. But the first step is making it possible.