Ownership of greek house is in limbo

The owner of Alpha Omicron Pi’s University house alleged it tried to take ownership.

by Melissa Berman

The Alpha Omicron Pi Women’s Fraternity is locked in a legal battle with the owners of its University of Minnesota chapter house.

The U.S. District Court for Minnesota released a preliminary ruling Sept. 23 saying AOII has no financial control of a house owned by Tau, Inc.

Tau is a Minnesota- based nonprofit affiliated with the University’s chapter of AOII for housing purposes. AOII’s international office formed Tau to manage properties in Minnesota, because AOII bylaws prohibit chapters from purchasing or leasing housing.

“AOII fraternity was advised it would be best that we form a corporation in the state where the properties are located, so these corporations were formed on behalf of the fraternity to own those houses,” Kandyce Harber, AOII’s legal counsel, said.

Ryan Sugden, one of Tau’s attorneys, said the lawsuit began because AOII’s board tried to take control of the house for its own financial gain.

According to Tau’s most recent civil complaint, filed Sept. 3 against AOII as a whole, the women’s fraternity allegedly attempted to take financial control of its house, located at 1121 Fifth St. SE in Minneapolis and threatened to sell or mortgage the property.

Tau said in the complaint that AOII’s international office attempted to change its bylaws and make Tau its subsidiary, which would allow AOII to control Tau’s finances and make housing decisions.

U.S. District Judge John Tunheim wrote in a preliminary ruling that AOII had no authority to make Tau its subsidiary and take control of the property.

“[I]f AOII’s bylaws said that it has the right to control the Walt Disney Company, that provision would have no legal effect and would not be binding upon the Walt Disney Company,” Tunheim wrote in the preliminary ruling.

AOII denied the allegations. Harber said the women’s fraternity never intended to sell the house.

“We have never had any plans to sell the house, and we have been clear about that from the beginning,” she said.

The preliminary ruling acts as a temporary restraining order, prohibiting AOII from making property decisions until the case is resolved at trial, according to the preliminary opinion.

Sugden said that for Tau, the lawsuit is about maintaining the chapter house.

 “The local alumni who have donated their own time and their own money to maintaining the house over the years, for decades — that’s what we’re trying to protect,” he said.

The case will be decided in a final hearing next fall.