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Attorney General Ellison wins settlement with landlord who disconnected water during pandemic

Meeker County landlord will reduce tenant’s balance to zero, pay civil penalty; may not interfere with any tenant’s ability to live at manufactured-home park during COVID-19 emergency

 

April 27, 2020



AG’s office has received 300 complaints from tenants illegally threatened with removal during emergency

April 24, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today announced that his office has obtained a settlement with a Meeker County landlord who repeatedly disconnected a tenant’s water service in violation of Governor Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-14 and Minnesota’s landlord-tenant laws.

Attorney General Ellison’s office has now received 300 complaints from tenants across Minnesota who are threatened with or facing removal that under Governor Walz’s order is illegal during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency. Attorney General Ellison’s office is charged with enforcing the Order.

The consent judgment, filed in Meeker County district court, requires landlord Ikechukwu Michael Nwachukwu, d/b/a Divine Estates to waive rental and contract-for-deed payments that the tenant previously owed at a manufactured-home park in Cosmos and reduce the tenant’s balance to zero. In addition, Nwachukwu is required to pay a $1,000 civil penalty, as well as an additional $9,000 if he violates the terms of the consent judgment. Nwachukwu agrees to comply with Executive Order 20-14 and Minnesota law by not interfering with any tenant’s ability to live at the park during the peacetime emergency. Further, under the terms of the consent judgment, Nwachukwu may not interfere with any tenant’s utility services at any time.

Landlord Nwachukwu had repeatedly attempted to terminate the tenancy of a tenant who resides in one of the homes in the manufactured-home park in Cosmos. When his tenant told him he could not afford to pay the water bill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the landlord physically terminated water service to the property on two occasions, in violation of Minnesota law. Meeker County district court previously granted a temporary restraining order requiring that the landlord restore water service to the property.

“It’s in every Minnesotan’s interest that everyone have a safe place to shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most landlords are doing the right thing by their tenants, and I thank them. But if any landlords illegally interfere with a tenant’s need for shelter during the pandemic, I’m showing again and again that my office will quickly take them to court and firmly hold them accountable,” Attorney General Ellison said.

Under Governor Tim 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. The disconnection of such services is considered a constructive eviction. Attorney General Ellison’s office has the authority to enforce this Executive Order. In addition, it is illegal under Minnesota’s landlord-tenant laws for a landlord to interrupt or cause the interruption of electricity, heat, gas, or water services to a tenant.

Attorney General Ellison encourages Minnesotans to report suspected violations of Executive Order 20-14, which suspends evictions during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency, by filling out the dedicated Tenant Eviction Complaint Form, available on the front page of the Attorney General’s website. Minnesotans can also do so by calling his office at (651) 296-3353 (Metro) or (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota).

 

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