The nightmare begins: A six-month lease was signed for a lower-level, 3-bedroom apartment for my daughter and son-in-law’s family (with 3 children and one on the way). Shortly after move-in, they discovered the bathtub would back up with filthy water (contaminated with debris, food particles, and who knows what) every time someone upstairs would run their water. If their tub was in use, this would prompt a quick escape to wait for tub to drain and require disinfecting before resuming either bath or shower (sometimes with baby left shivering in a towel with shampoo in his hair; other times causing late arrival for appointments). Numerous requests for service were met with statements like: “We snaked your drain; your line is clear.” About three months later the tub backed up in the middle of the night and flooded the entire hallway and portions of nearly every room! Management merely extracted some of the water with a suction vac, pulled back some of the carpet and brought in an industrial fan. The soaked padding was not removed. Consequently, within 2 to 3 days, the place began to stink and shortly thereafter, mold began to grow up the walls of all affected areas. Because management was uncooperative, my stressed-out, pregnant daughter asked me to attend an appointment between herself and the manager. At the meeting, the manager kept interrupting and said she would only speak to the tenant unless we had a power of attorney, and when I asserted tenant’s right to have me there, the manager called the police, so we waited outside to greet the officer. The officer was sympathetic and gave us resources to call. My daughter wound up having to go through Legal Aid for assistance (they are very familiar with Mr. Filister). Every time Legal Aid would send a letter giving legal notice, Filister Ent. would only fulfill part of its obligation, requiring more letters, and so on. (There were numerous problems and deficiencies, but of course, the mold was the most urgent problem.)
During the entire six-month lease period, Filister’s people would show up at unannounced times, come in when tenants were not home, and not show up at noticed times. Several deficiencies were never fixed.
A timely 30-day written notice was given by tenant to not renew the lease. (Beware if tenant’s notice is not given in time, in writing, Filister’s leases automatically renew, with no recourse to tenant.) During that last month of renting, management attempted to show the apartment to a prospective tenant with less than 5 minutes’ notice on a Monday morning. (After a busy weekend, getting two young children off to school, taking care of baby, and starting laundry; she was not even dressed yet.) When tenant politely refused entry due to lack of “reasonable notice,” tenant received a threatening message on her phone from Harvey Filister himself, threatening to sue her.
The bottom line is that Filister Enterprises broke the law on numerous occasions. After moving out, my daughter filed a small claims action. She was well prepared, with photos, resource information about mold infestation, a letter from their doctor about the family’s illnesses resulting from the mold, and a very detailed timeline of events (she kept detailed notes: date, time, who, what and where). My husband and I attended the hearing. First of all, the magistrate had everyone in the packed courtroom for all cases befroe him go out into the hall to facilitate possible settlement with “neutrals” who were present for those who were interested. (About half the cases settled.) Mr. Filister (our first time meeting him), proved himself to be the ultimate bully. I can’t even repeat the things he said right up into our faces, and the neutrals were powerless to do anything about the horrible verbal abuse we received. Once he saw how well prepared the tenant was, he stormed off.
I wish I could say it went well in the courtroom. What a joke. When it was her turn, my daughter requested permission to read from her written notes, because she was so nervous. The magistrate said no and proceeded with, “Did you pay your rent?” This was the tenant’s case—it had nothing to do with rent payments, but yes, she paid every month, on time!! The magistrate never got past the flooding and down to the real issues. The decision mailed several weeks later merely awarded the $45.00 Filister illegally charges tenants for “final walk-through administration fees” (check your lease; this is absolutely illegal), plus reimbursement of the court filing fee.
But this tenant did not give up, and had the matter removed to trial court (easy to do). The trial did not take place for several more months (the baby was now one year old), but it was so worth it. Many of our family members attended the hearing for moral support. When the judge saw how well prepared the tenant was, he took the time to go through her entire written timeline to get every detail entered as oral testimony into the record. Thus, early on, Mr. Filister asked to meet with tenant privately to discuss settlement. $700.00 was offered and rejected. Tenant needed to be heard and have her day in court. Neither she nor I have ever been to court before. (Mr. Filister is very familiar with a courtroom.) Well, Mr. Filister was an absolute caricature. He made fun of my daughter’s name. He did not submit his exhibits to court ahead of time as required. He interrupted frequently (causing the court reporter to express great frustration), and wasted the court’s time. He sat directly across from us at the table and every time the judge would look away, he would lean across the table and glare at us menacingly, but we never gave him the satisfaction of looking at him. He berated my daughter on the stand and proved himself to be the childish bully we knew him to be. His staff of minions lied about my daughter, and our family overheard them saying nasty things about us and how they were going to get me kicked out of the courtroom. Meanwhile, we remained polite, stuck to the facts, and I did not speak at all until I was called at the very end. (The police incident was not brought up by tenant, as it was not relevant to the case, but tenant was allowed to play back in court Mr. Filister’s threatening recorded message—extremely satisfying.) This trial took an entire day. However, this time the award did not take long to arrive, and the judge awarded the tenant, my daughter, more than $1,700.00; some for the apartment’s inhabitability and the rest for violations of Minnesota statutes.
After reading the judge’s decision, we realized in hindsight that because she was so nervous, she didn’t remember to counter Filister and his minions’ lies about her never letting them into the apartment (on the occasions they did decide to work). The truth was that with the exception of the “less than 5 minutes” notice of showing the apartment, she never once refused entry, even though the kids were awakened from naps, or at other inconvenient times. Had she remembered to state this fact, she could have conceivably been awarded the entire six months of rent paid.
If you have trouble with a landlord, familiarize yourself with your rights. The Minnesota statutes are easily accessed via the internet so you can learn what to do and not to do. The pertinent statutes are found in Section 504A and 504B: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=504
Tips and things we have learned:
1. Always have landlord sign off on your “check-in” list when you move in and retain a signed copy. That is your proof of things that were already broken, missing or stained, etc. when you moved in.
2. Always take photos of anything noted in your “check-in” list to prove what you have noted on the list.
3. If your apartment is filthy when you move in (i.e., nothing like the one you were shown), you can photograph and document the mess and the amount of time spent to make it clean enough to live in and charge the landlord a reasonable amount for your time. You can either negotiate this with your landlord, or depending on your relationship, wait until end of lease and move out. It is good leverage if your landlord is trying to wrongly withhold part or all of your damage deposit.
4. Your landlord cannot enter your premises without giving you reasonable notice (24 hours), unless it is an emergency, even if you are not home.
5. Always keep notes (who, what, where, when and date/time).
6. If you find yourself in a tenuous situation with a bad landlord, especially a bully, never stoop to their level. This type of individual uses bullying to deflect attention from the real issues which will thwart your ability to seek legal redress. This type of landlord would like nothing better than for you to retaliate so he can either sue you or worse, have you arrested. Maintain a business-like demeanor at all times. Stick to the facts.
7. Always take photos of your clean apartment when you move out, and leave it cleaner than when you moved in.
8. Ask for a final walk-through, if possible, the day before you need to turn in your keys. This should give you time to take care of anything they find wrong. (You have a right to attend the final walk-through after moving out and ask for a copy of their check list.)
9. Landlords cannot charge “administrative fees” for the final walkthrough when you move out. If they keep this from your return of deposit, or any other money you can prove they are not entitled to, do not hesitate to take landlord to small claims court.
10. If your landlord leaves a threatening note or message, be sure to preserve it.
11. If your landlord violates any of your rights, take them to small claims court. It is well worth your time. Is it stressful? Yes, but certainly no more so than what has already happened. This is the only way to keep others safe from dishonest landlords like Filister Enterprises. This is a great way to “pay it forward.” If all renters followed their own end of the lease and held landlords accountable for their end, it would make this world a better and safer place.
12. Please remember that not all landlords are bad. My daughter had wonderful landlords when she and her husband were newlyweds and only moved because they had grown out of the space.
Thank you for listening; and Mr. Filister, if you are out there listening, please examine your heart, and start doing the right thing. No one should have to live in fear in their own home.