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Attorney General Ellison sues another landlord for illegally forcing tenant to vacate during COVID-19 pandemic

Files enforcement action against Meeker County landlord who repeatedly disconnected water to manufactured home in violation of Executive Order 20-14 and Minnesota law; seeks emergency injunctive relief to protect tenant

 

April 13, 2020



April 10, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that his office has filed another lawsuit against a landlord for illegally forcing a tenant to vacate during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency, this time against a Meeker County landlord for repeatedly disconnecting a tenant’s water service and making his home uninhabitable, in violation of Governor Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-14 and Minnesota’s landlord-tenant laws. The Attorney General’s Office is seeking emergency relief from the Court to ensure continued water utility services to the tenant’s home and prevent the landlord from interfering with the tenant’s ability to live there during the peacetime emergency.

“Most landlords are doing right by their tenants at a time when it’s harder and harder for Minnesotans to afford their lives. Most landlords recognize that their tenants need safe, stable homes at a time when it’s necessary and required to stay at home,” Attorney General Ellison said. “But my office is demonstrating once again that if you’re a landlord who’s violating the Executive Order and breaking the law during this crisis, we’ll take swift and strong action against you on behalf of all Minnesotans.”

The landlord, Ikechukwu Michael Nwachukwu (d/b/a Divine Estates), owns a manufactured-home park in Cosmos, Minnesota. He has continued to attempt to terminate the tenancy of the tenant who resides in one of the homes there. When his tenant told him he could not afford to pay the water bill due to the COVID 19 pandemic, Mr. Nwachukwu physically terminated water service to the property on three occasions, beginning on March 26, in violation of Minnesota law. After the Attorney General’s office informed him yesterday, April 9, that his actions were illegal, he restored water service to the property, but has threatened to turn it off again today, April 10. As a result, the tenant has been forced out of his home and is staying with a friend in another city.

The filing asserts that “Nwachukwu’s actions are a violation of landlord-tenant laws during the best of times, but an egregious and reprehensible action during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The following passage is excerpted from Attorney General Ellison’s court filing. (In the passage, “the resident” stands in for the resident’s name, which has been redacted to preserve his privacy.)

On March 26, the resident looked out of his window and saw Nwachukwu near his home with a large tool. The resident went outside to see what he was doing, and Nwachukwu stated that he was going to shut off the resident’s water if the resident did not give him $200. The resident gave him $200 in cash.

On March 28, the resident tried to flush his toilet, but it did not work. The resident went outside and found Nwachukwu outside his property. Nwachukwu stated he was shutting off the water because the resident had not paid the bill. Nwachukwu stated that he needed the resident to give him an additional $200 if he wanted him to turn the water back on. The resident did not have the money right away, so Nwachukwu refused to turn the water back on. The resident later obtained the money, and a resident who works for Nwachukwu turned the water back on.

The resident’s water remained on for a few days, until Nwachukwu returned on April 2, 2020 to shut the resident’s water off yet again. The resident heard Nwachukwu tell a neighbor he was sick and tired of the resident living in Nwachukwu’s house comfortably and then stated: “let’s see how comfortable he is when he spends a few days without water.”

Under Governor Walz’s Executive Order 20-14, property owners are prohibited from filing eviction actions or terminating residential leases for the duration of the COVID-19 peacetime emergency. Attorney General Ellison’s office has the authority to enforce this Executive Order. Additionally, it is illegal under Minnesota’s landlord-tenant laws for a landlord to interrupt electricity, heat, gas, or water services to a tenant. The disconnection of such services is considered a “constructive eviction,” which is barred under Minnesota law.

In its enforcement action, the Attorney General’s Office is seeking permanent injunctive relief, civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation, restitution for the resident, damages under Minnesota’s landlord-tenant laws, and its costs and fees. A copy of the complaint against Mr. Nwachukwu and the motion for a temporary restraining order are available on Attorney General Ellison’s website.

Attorney General Ellison encourages Minnesotans to report any suspected violations of Executive Order 20-14, which suspends evictions and notices-to-vacate during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency, by filling out the dedicated Tenant Eviction Complaint Form on the front page of the Attorney General’s website. Attorney General Ellison’s website also features dedicated links for price-gouging complaints and for any other COVID-19-related complaints.

Minnesotans without access to the internet may also file a complaint by calling his office at (651) 296-3353 (Metro) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota).

 

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