Landlords ignore suits

Students have had trouble collecting money that judges deemed rightfully theirs.

Vadim Lavrusik

It’s a win-lose situation.

Students sue their former landlords, mostly because the landlord wrongfully withheld their safety deposit. And the judge rules in the students’ favor.

But they don’t see a penny of the money, said Bill Dane, an attorney at University Student Legal Services.

Dozens of conciliation court records show unpaid judgments to students – many of which are in the thousands of dollars and some that haven’t been paid by the landlords for years.

Dane, who handles some of the cases, said the struggle for students isn’t about winning in court; it’s about collecting the money.

“The court doesn’t go out and collect the judgments,” he said. “Students have to try to get it on their own.”

Same old story

Engineering junior Nick Bantle and his roommates are in a legal battle with their former landlord, Jim Eischens.

He said Eischens first filed a suit against them for ending a lease agreement early, after the city ordered them to move out for over-occupancy.

“It’s not like we had a choice,” Bantle said. “We had a kid living in a dining room.”

After Eischens dropped his lawsuit, the students filed suit to get the safety deposit back. With interest and other penalties, the sum of the award totaled more than $2,800.

In January the judge ruled in favor of the students. But court records indicate that Eischens, a Twin Cities Housing and Realty landlord who owns roughly

80 properties in southeast Minneapolis, hasn’t paid a penny on the amount.

Dane said he doesn’t understand it.

“Why would a landlord of that size, that brings in $100,000 a month, not be able to pay the judgment?” Dane asked.

‘It’s a two-way street’

Patrick Burns, an attorney who represents Eischens and other landlords, said his clients often win judgments and the students don’t pay.

“My clients have more judgments against kids that – I would probably be able to buy the sail boat I am looking to retire on if I could get all the judgments,” Burns said. “It’s a two-way street.”

However, conciliation court records dating back to 2000 involving Twin Cities Housing and Realty showed no unpaid judgments in which students were the defendants.

Burns said he has obtained “easily” more than $100,000 in judgments from former tenants over the past six to seven years.

But his clients aren’t about nickel and diming students, and they only pursue action against tenants who have caused serious damage to the property or left the lease agreement early, he said.

Burns wouldn’t comment on the Bantle case or others because many are still in litigation.

“With respect to TCHR, I have satisfied judgments and satisfied cases,” he said.

James De Sota, neighborhood coordinator of the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said the situation can go both ways because some students are rough on properties.

But at the same time, some landlords are known for having substandard conditions and ripping students off by taking their deposits for illegitimate reasons, he said.

‘Good luck collecting’

Some landlords are so bad at paying their judgments that even the judges wish the students good luck on collecting the money.

At least that’s the case with finance junior Adam Elseth.

Elseth and his roommates had their court hearing against former landlord Doug Doty on Monday. Elseth said even though the judge ruled in their favor, he was disappointed with the judicial system.

“I don’t get why they take this sort of thing lightly,” he said. “For a judge to wish you good luck collecting paints a grim picture.”

Elseth said he is trying to collect a security deposit Doty withheld 18 months ago but is pessimistic about actually getting the $2,690 he’s suing for.

Doty, who didn’t appear for the hearing, has judgments dating back to 2002 that he has yet to pay, according to conciliation court records.

It’s a merry-go-round

One of the only options for students to collect the money is to receive the rent money the landlord makes on other tenants.

Essentially, the tenants pay the students who sue, not the landlord, until the judgment is satisfied.

But Dane said that can be tricky because some landlords like Doty have been known to take the tenants’ deposits when they aren’t getting the rent.

And then that tenant ends up suing him as well, Dane said. The process begins again.

“It’s a dirty tactic he’s using,” he said.

Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon said he wasn’t aware of the issue, but perhaps the city could address the issue by attaching satisfied judgments to the landlord’s rental license.

He said he doesn’t know exactly how the city could assist in such matters.

Safety hazards

Psychology senior Bonnie Aslagson filed a suit against Eischens after her house was condemned for high levels of carbon monoxide in November.

She and her roommates were ordered to move out of the house within four days, she said. They couldn’t get a hold of Eischens until the day before they had to leave.

“(TCHR) didn’t do anything to help us,” she said. “They’re worthless. They say they’re going to do something – they won’t.”

Aslagson and her roommates never received their safety deposit and are suing for about $4,000.

She said she expects Eischens will counter-sue. The court date is May 14.

Burns said the property was inappropriately condemned by the city because the carbon monoxide leak was fixed.

Joann Velde, deputy director at Housing Inspection Services, said the house wasn’t improperly condemned because the inspectors needed to verify that the problem was fixed and the house was safe.

They weren’t able to access the problem area because of a lock on the door, she said.

All of Eischens’ properties were inspected this year, she said.

“I think communication with (TCHR) has improved and their compliance is getting better,” Velde said. “But there is always room for improvement.”