Today, March 3rd 2020, in a standing-room only courtroom, five witnesses testified during the eviction trial of community leader, Chloe Jackson. The second day of trial started with Roberto De La Riva’s cross examination, followed by a heartbreaking testimony from Vanessa Del Campo Chacon, another 22nd Avenue tenant and leader of the Sky Without Limits Community. The day proceeded with testimonies from a representative of Lighthouse Management Group (the court-appointed administrator currently in charge of the buildings) and a city housing inspector that had witnessed the apartments in disrepair. The day ended with an unbelievable and contradictory testimony from Steve Frenz himself. Frenz will remain on the stand and continue testifying tomorrow morning.
Vanessa Del Campo Chacon began the day with her testimony. Having lived in her unit for over four years, Vanessa is a long-standing leader of Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia and has struggled with substandard living conditions because of Frenz for years. She shared about the squalor conditions she’s braved throughout the years. Similar to Chloe, these conditions include pests, broken windows, and no heat in the wintertime. After making constant requests to Frenz to fix the issues in her apartment, and working with her neighbors to stop her eviction, he threatened her, telling her that she and her neighbors should “fear what’s to come”. She and her neighbors were fearful of asserting their rights to request the maintenance they needed in their apartments: “We are mothers, wives....It made us very fearful because we were feeling very vulnerable”.
Months later, she shared, Steve Frenz himself knocked forcibly on her door and then barged into her unit without notice, consent, or permission. Vanessa had been breastfeeding her newborn baby, and was scared, not knowing who it was that intruded into her home. Frenz pushed some papers into her hands and told her that she “needed to go”. Despite everything that they have been through, Vanessa spoke about the efforts of the tenants to unite and manage the buildings themselves, and their desire to buy them and not be evicted.
Roberto de la Riva, Co-director of Inquilinxs Unidxs/United Renters for Justice, finished his testimony with cross examining questions. He spoke to the tense state of the current landlord/tenant relationships, and said that most tenants struggle with little power and process of accountability for their landlords. Frenz’s lawyers did their best to minimize the dozens of repair requests on record and challenged Roberto and his “expertise” in assessing units for damages-- alluding to the ridiculous idea that Roberto and the tenants themselves were not qualified to fill out general maintenance request forms, about their own units. Frenz’s lawyers went on to use racist hypothetical statements, claiming that if Chloe Jackson was “smoking marijuana or doing crack in her unit” this would be a different case.
Alex Dybsky then testified about the general state of disrepair that the court-appointed administrator found the buildings in when they were appointed to manage the buildings. Following Dybsky, Michael Buckman, a city housing inspector, paged through and spoke to the 119 pages of code violations that he had to write in regards to the five buildings on 22nd Ave S.
Steve Frenz Takes The Stand:
Before Frenz even began testifying his lawyers started trying to limit what the Jury would hear. Concerned that the jury might realize how far Steve Frenz has gone to cover-up his actions and deny repairs to his tenants, Frenz’s lawyers attempted to keep from the jury the fact that Frenz was recently convicted of felony perjury. Thankfully, lawyers with Legal Aid representing Chloe, were able to ensure that the jury be informed of Frenz’s felony perjury case. The judge did decide to limit the details of what could be brought up, so the jury will not hear how Frenz fabricated leases and rent information, had his employees sign leases, and asked a pest control company to try to cover up his lies.
Frenz started his testimony by stating that he’s “never lied to the City of Minneapolis when applying for a rental license” even though the city revoked his licenses because he did not disclose that he co-owned the buildings with another landlord that was banned from renting out property in Minneapolis. He then continued to deny the lived experiences and previous testimony of tenants by saying that he did not harbor any resentment towards them, that he never entered into any tenant’s units to deliver notices to vacate and that he never threatened any of the tenants. Upon hearing his testimony, Chloe and Vanessa laughed and said “he’s been lying to us and trying to punish us for years now, and this is no different”.
Frenz’s unbelievable testimony continued as he claimed to be the subject of a racketeering scheme and the “chosen one” of a much larger political movement aimed to destroy him. He continued to assert that he harbored no resentment against the tenants, and that he prayed for forgiveness, but that nonetheless the residents of the Sky Without Limits Community would lose the housing that he provided which he claimed to be affordable.
When pressed as to why he was unwilling to sell the buildings to the Land Bank Inc that would purchase the properties on behalf of tenants, he simply said he wanted more money for the properties, even though he admitted to making no other moves to sell the properties to anyone else and even admitted that his business partner, Spiros Zorbalas, has already agreed to this sale in writing. He then blatantly and explicitly refused to tell the Jury anything more about the possible sale, saying that the questions about it were “absurd”.
To add insult to injury, Frenz also testified that he had no second thoughts in regards to any of the ways that the buildings were maintained. He claimed no responsibility for the squirrels that were chewing through Chloe’s walls, nor the mold taking over her bathroom, nor the water leaking into electrical fixtures, nor the blatant disregard for basic safety of broken smoke alarms and door locks. In possibly the harshest moment of his testimony so far, Frenz admitted that his only regret was not evicting the 69 families that lived in the five buildings on 22nd Ave S earlier.
Tomorrow, Steve Frenz will continue his testimony. I can’t help but wonder how he will continue to justify the eviction of the remaining 30 families, instead of taking the 7 million dollar deal that is in front of him. I hope you will join me tomorrow in court to hear more of his testimony. Following Frenz, there will be a few more testimonies before the trial concludes. We may have a verdict by Thursday. I feel hopeful that the Jury will see what everyone who has attended the trial can plainly see: Frenz has consistently lied in the past and the families who have fought so long for dignified living conditions should be allowed to stay in their homes!
--Angela Tona, Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia supporter