Updated: Mar 4, 2020
The courtroom was packed yet again today as I watched more patronizing efforts from Steve Frenz and his attorneys to try to paint a picture of an innocent millionaire victim. His argument, that evicting 70 families was a "business deal" and "nothing personal" did not appear to be based in any reality to me. Following Frenz’s outrageous testimony, he stayed in the courtroom, surrounded by supporters of Chloe and the other families. Frenz stayed and heard testimony from a housing inspector and a real estate expert that made it even harder for me to believe that these evictions have anything to do with a business decision.
FRENZ CONTINUES HIS TESTIMONY
Frenz continued his testimony, and what seemed to me like his conspiracy theories against the tenants, by recalling events that took place during the class action dispute that renters that lived in his properties between 2012 and 2017 brought forward due to the licensing issues with the properties and due to substandard living conditions. Frenz said that he remembered that the attorneys representing tenants for the class action lawsuit were planning to "destroy me and take all my money and my properties". He went on to claim that he settled the class action lawsuit because the jury would have been a "wildcard" that couldn't be trusted to make the right conclusions. I think that his arrogant demeanor continued throughout the rest of his testimony. When asked about why his rental licenses were revoked, he said he still believes that they never should have been revoked in the first place and that all of the lawsuits about serious and consistent repair issues, unsafe and unsanitary conditions, illegally renting units, and more were only a scheme to "get everyone all excited".
I was appalled at what came next. In an attempt to redeem himself from the narrative of being bitter and resentful, Frenz shared that couldn't be spiteful towards his former tenants because he "does not fear starving to death" since he can move on to another job, but that he only "feels bad that people are losing their affordable housing." He confusingly said he would love to keep the residents in their homes so they didn't have to move but that "no one seems to really want that". However, it is clear to me that he is the only person who wants them to move! When Frenz was asked about whether he was bitter because of what has happened in the past few years he smiled and replied with enthusiasm "I’ve been down before, I’ll be down again, and I’ll come back every time".
What stuck out me as contradictory and chilling is that Frenz readily admitted that he did not have to evict any of the families in the buildings. In fact, he testified that he knew that he could renovate the buildings with tenants in them, adding that "it’s doable, we’ve done it before multiple times". He admitted to wanting to sell the same five buildings for 7 million dollars, the same price that is on the table being offered on behalf of the tenants. And he even admitted that his business partner, Spiros Zorbalas, is willing to sell the buildings for that same price today.
From my understanding, either Frenz does not make good business decisions or this case goes far beyond business decisions. If Frenz only cared about his bottom line, why would continue to spend, what he testified as, a "couple million" in legal fees to evict families? Why would he keep fighting for these particular buildings when Zorbalas has said their company has missed out on getting more than $1.4 million in rent over the past year and a half? How is it that he has sold all of his other 60+ buildings without evicting everyone in them first?
Frenz has made it more than clear to me that he is only interested in punishing these families and punishing Chloe for her role in standing up for herself and her community by requesting the repairs she desperately needed.
John Trostle, a professional Building Evaluator and Inspector, was then called to the stand to give testimony. He stated clearly, over and over, that the buildings could be renovated while they were occupied, opposing the notion that the renters in the five 22nd Ave buildings needed to be evicted for the needed renovations to be done-- the crux of the Frenz’s argument. He testified to how there would be no health and safety risks for making the necessary renovations while families remained living in their homes.
Similarly, Edward Landenberger, an acquisition manager at the Land Bank Twin Cities Inc shared testimony that also contradicted Frenz’s arguments. With the help of the Land Bank Twin Cities Inc, the Sky Without Limits Community recently made an offer of a little over $7 million to purchase the five buildings on 22nd Avenue. Frenz's business partner Spiros Zorbalas was ready to sign and finish the sale on the Friday before trial started, but Frenz never showed up to sign the papers.
During his testimony, Steve Frenz said that he believes that the buildings would be worth nearly $11 million after renovation, but that no one else had ever confirmed this theory. It seemed to me that there is no evidence that this theory of Frenz's is anything more than either wishful thinking, or a lie. Landenberger testified that he has had independent licensed appraisals, contractors, and experts look at and evaluate the five buildings before coming up with an accurate and fair market offer and negotiating on the sale. Landenberger, who does dozens of real estate transactions a year stated cleary: he thinks that current $7 million offer is, in fact, *overpaying* for the five buildings on 22nd Ave which have been partially demolished by Steve Frenz.
LAST DAY OF TRIAL
Tomorrow, March 5th, at 9am lawyers for both sides will give their closing arguments and the jury will begin to deliberate on a verdict. They may take as much time as they want, but I believe they will likely offer a verdict by the end of the day tomorrow. The jury must decide if Steve Frenz was motivated, in part, by anger or retaliation when he chose to take action to evict Chloe and all of her neighbors, and there are two possible outcomes:
The jury will either choose to believe that Frenz is being truthful when he says he was not bitter or resentful about Chloe and her neighbor’s actions to get repairs, despite the overwhelming evidence that this is not simply a “business decision” and despite knowing that Frenz has just been convicted for felony perjury and lying under oath in housing court about tenants trying to get repairs. If that happens it would not be the end of Chloe's fight for her home. However, it would mean that a court has upheld one of the 34 total evictions that are hanging over 100 people’s heads. None of us, who have volunteered thousands of hours of work to support Chloe and to be in community with Chloe and her neighbors, will give up on them.
The jury could also see the situation clearly for what I know it is: retaliation against families who have stood up over and over again for their rights and their housing just to get Frenz to make basic repairs in their apartments. I think there has been more than enough evidence to show that Frenz is motivated by revenge on these families. If the Jury decides tomorrow in Chloe's favor she will be cleared of the threat of losing her home and we can easily move forward towards a solution that benefits 34 families that form a beautiful community right where they are, in their homes.
It's been so beautiful and empowering to see the hundreds of people in my community that support Chloe and her neighbors. We’ve had the courtroom packed all week, and I can tell that our consistent support this week has really impacted Chloe and all of the families at risk of eviction. Let’s finish this trial strong tomorrow!
Join us tomorrow at 9am to surround, support, and lift up Chloe and all of the renters who are united for true justice! Find more Court Support Details here: http://bit.ly/frenzevict
--Angela Tona, Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia supporter