Minneapolis renters threatened with 'random police inspections' for marijuana

Have these bicycles parked outside the Uptown Plaza apartments been used in the commission of marijuana crimes? WE MAY NEVER KNOW!

Have these bicycles parked outside the Uptown Plaza apartments been used in the commission of marijuana crimes? WE MAY NEVER KNOW! Google Street

Back in May, renters of Uptown Plaza apartments received a sternly worded letter from an email account affiliated with ZPG Companies, property managers of this south Minneapolis building.

The letter was meant to put tenants on notice. The smell of marijuana smoke was "increasingly and obviously noticed" in recent weeks, and would have to stop. Or else.

In bolded letters, the email stated:

"This is not acceptable!! Not only is it illegal, it is a violation of your lease!!"

In fact, the letter said, the lease describes Uptown Plaza as smoke-free "at least four separate times," not to mention an explicit prohibition on "drug-related criminal activity." The lease's fine print is supposed to count as tenants' "first and only warning for all policies," the letter said.

This message functioned as a second warning then, though with a much more pointed threat to it. From that point forward, any time marijuana smoke was detected "by ZPG staff or agents working on behalf of ZPG staff," Minneapolis police officers would be called and allowed to search "ANY AND ALL APARTMENTS NECESSARY." 

Just which "agents" were working on behalf of ZPG is left unclear, though the letter ends by encouraging readers to report pot smoke anonymously by putting a note in the office dropbox.

Months passed. Some people got high in Uptown Plaza, as they probably did in virtually every apartment building throughout the city. But this is not just any apartment building. 

A follow-up notice was issued last week. At the bottom was the initial letter from the property manager, stating marijuana smoke was illegal, and against their lease. At the top was a new warning, again printed in bold. 

"As a result of continued non-compliance, we are contacting the Minneapolis Police Department and requesting random police inspections immediately. They will be given full access to the building, and all apartments therein to identify the source of the illegal activity. Violating these laws and lease policies is ground for IMMEDIATE EVICTION."

City Pages read this warning to William Topka, a local attorney with expertise in real estate law. Topka chuckled a little.

"Good luck with that," Topka says. "First of all, the Minneapolis Police would never agree to that. It's in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which requires that there be 'probable cause' before any search-and-seizure." 

Beyond that, Minnesota law says landlords may only enter a renter's home for "reasonable business purposes," and only after giving "reasonable notice," generally accepted as a 24-hour period. Landlords who break that are violating their own lease, and could be hit with a $1,000 fine.

Topka's seen instances where a landlord goes after an individual tenant, maybe someone who's been arrested for drug violations in the past, or has neighbors accusing them of current use. This threat from ZPG Companies is a new one.

"I've never seen an instance where a landlord says because a few of you might be smoking, we're bringing the police in to check everyone's apartment," Topka says. "I've never seen that done before."

And he won't, nor will the renters of Uptown Plaza. 

When City Pages first contacted ZPG Companies about the threat to tenants, a company email account responded that "there was never a letter sent... to any resident," and that the whole thing is "obviously a huge scam." When City Pages followed up asking for more details -- which part, exactly, was a "scam"? -- the company's tone changed. 

"ZPG Companies is committed to running properties that are safe, well managed and provide a smoke and drug free environment for all our residents," reads a company statement. Indeed, this strict smoke-free assurance is one of the main reasons some choose to rent from them in the first place.

And some, or at least one, had repeatedly complained of "smelling smoke, including marijuana," inside the Uptown Plaza building. This inspired a "junior property manager" with ZPG to issue the two letters referenced above, with the latter warning of "random" police raids. 

"These letters were not approved by senior management," ZPG writes, adding:

"While we do take seriously our non smoking/drug free policy, that our residents expect, we regret that these letter’s [sic] were sent. They do not reflect how these issues are addressed by our company. We have never conducted 'random searches' at any of our properties."

Hear that, people of Uptown Plaza? If you've spent the last week freaking out about cops suddenly breaking down your door, there's no need to worry. Everyone just chill. Find something that mellows you out. Consider doing it outside.