Consumer protection laws are typically viewed as protecting those who purchase goods or services. However, as Assistant Attorney General Katherine Kelly says, “Every AG has their own flavor of things they want to pursue.” When Keith Ellison was elected Minnesota attorney general in 2018, his agenda included pursuing issues that were affecting low-income Minnesota residents, Maloney says.
Kelly led a team from the attorney general’s office that used consumer protection laws to halt the violation of rights of hundreds of families who rented apartments in north Minneapolis. In November, a Hennepin County judge ruled that landlord Steven Meldahl knowingly and in bad faith violated the rights of 267 families who rented from him.
The case marks the first time in memory that the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has prioritized treating tenants as consumers under consumer protection laws.
Meldahl’s tenants testified at the trial that they lived in squalid conditions they struggled to afford because Meldahl repeatedly raised the rent while refusing to make repairs. Meldahl was found guilty of falsely representing to his tenants that he could prevent them from having their homes inspected by the city of Minneapolis and that he could charge them late fees greater than 8%.
The court entered a permanent injunction that prevents Meldahl from engaging in those deceptive practices. He was fined $500 for each of the 267 renting families, for a total of $133,500, and ordered him to pay the state’s attorneys’ fees and costs in pursuing the case. The landlord is being closely monitored to make sure the practices aren’t revived.
Kelly says Meldahl had been taking advantage of renters in his North Minneapolis apartment buildings for more than three decades. The AG’s office worked with attorneys from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid to investigate and build the case. Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid represented dozens of the landlord’s tenants in individual cases over the course of decades.
“It was so heartening to represent these people,” Kelly says. “These cases are enormously, emotionally impactful for us as attorneys. We’re dealing with people who have been victims in many different arenas of their lives. They just blossomed and were happy to hear someone in government respected them and cared about what happened to them.”
Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2021 here.
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