The Potluck

Attorney General Ellison sues one of Minnesota’s largest landlords for unsafe living conditions

By: - February 10, 2022 1:04 pm

A HavenBrook Home pictured in a lawsuit filed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Feb. 10, 2022.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office filed suit on Thursday against one of the state’s largest private landlords, HavenBrook Homes, for failing to maintain its properties and address lead paint hazards in its properties. The lawsuit also alleges HavenBrook Homes tried to evict tenants during the state’s eviction moratorium.

“Bad landlords’ bad treatment of tenants violates not only common decency but the laws of the state of Minnesota,” Ellison said during a news conference.

HavenBrook tenants say the company failed to address mold, bat infestations, faulty appliances and broken furnaces, sometimes for years. When the company did make repairs, tenants say the work was often shoddy or incomplete.

“They’re awful,” said HavenBrook renter Anna Crockett. “I have a son who is a chronic asthmatic, and what we found in there was mold. It took them almost two years to fix that.”

HavenBrook Homes is owned by Pretium Partners, a New York-based hedge fund that controls some 70,000 rental properties across the country, including more than 600 single-family homes in the Twin Cities metro area.

Ellison alleges HavenBrook defrauded its tenants by misrepresenting its property repair practices, in violation of Minnesota’s consumer protection laws. The company boasts a “24-hour maintenance hotline” but tenants say it would sometimes take weeks to reach a maintenance worker.

A spokesperson for HavenBrook Homes said the company is reviewing the lawsuit but said it is “committed to providing the highest-quality rental housing experience possible by offering consistent, dependable and attentive service for all residents in Minnesota and across the country.”

Ellison says the lack of maintenance is part of the company’s business model, pointing to claims from Pretium that profits from its single-family rental business rival those of multi-family businesses, which are typically more profitable.

“Systematically under-resourcing the upkeep of their properties and leaving many tenants in homes that are uninhabitable is a deliberate strategy to maximize and extract profit from Minnesota families,” Ellison said during a Thursday news conference.

The company also routinely failed to take precautions to mitigate lead hazards, according to the complaint, in violation of state law. Tenants noted peeling paint that posed a potential risk on door frames, windows and basement walls.

The city of Minneapolis is working with several families that lived in HavenBrook homes who have members diagnosed with lead poisoning, according to the complaint.

The complaint filed by Ellison’s office also alleges HavenBrook sent letters to tenants saying they would be evicted during the emergency eviction moratorium Gov. Tim Walz instituted to prevent people from being displaced during the pandemic in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the complaint, HavenBrook sent letters to tenants who were behind on rent telling them an “eviction may be filed immediately” unless they paid the full balance of rent owed plus any fees within a week. Other tenants were told their lease would not be renewed, also in violation of the peacetime emergency, and that their credit ratings would be negatively affected if they didn’t move out.

The state began rolling back its eviction moratorium in July, but protections extend until June for people who are behind on rent and have pending applications for rental assistance.

Crockett said HavenBrook moved to evict her after she began withholding rent in an attempt to force them to make repairs. The eviction filing came shortly before Walz’s moratorium but Crockett should have been protected because the court date fell after the moratorium was in place. But rather than fight the eviction, Crockett decided to move out.

Ellison said he’s not aware of any other states filing suit against HavenBrook but said he plans to talk to other attorneys general about the lawsuit.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.