Richfield residents wait for decision on injunction in discrimination suit

Activity in the parking lots and roads surrounding Concierge Apartments provide signs of the massive renovation taking place at the complex as tenants who no longer qualify for stricter rental requirements move out. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)
Activity in the parking lots and roads surrounding Concierge Apartments provide signs of the massive renovation taking place at the complex as tenants who no longer qualify for stricter rental requirements move out. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

After a court hearing last week, a handful of Concierge Apartments residents expected to hear by April 15 whether they will have to move out of the Richfield apartment complex by May 31.

After the September sale of what was then called Crossroads at Penn Apartments, the new property owner established new rental criteria that meant many of the 698-unit building’s tenants would have to move out, prompting a class-action lawsuit filed against Soderberg Apartment Specialists and MSP Crossroads in February.

The suit, claiming housing discrimination, names 35 tenants as plaintiffs. Of those, an estimated five to eight residents still reside at Concierge, according to court documents filed on their behalf.

Judge Ann Montgomery on April 14 entertained plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction that would allow the residents to stay at Concierge past the May 31 move-out deadline, which was established for tenants on month-to-month leases who no longer qualify under more stringent rental requirements. Chief among the changes was that Section 8 vouchers would no longer be accepted at the property.

Considering the time Section 8 residents need to file paperwork so they can find other housing with the vouchers, the judge agreed to at least make an informal decision on their request by April 15, according to Eric Hauge, a tenant advocate with the housing organization HOME Line. If granted, the injunction would allow the tenants to remain at Concierge under Section 8 until the suit is resolved.

When rent at Concierge was increased by about $100 as the complex was remodeled, the Richfield Housing and Redevelopment Authority increased the voucher payments to the landlord to allow Section 8 residents to remain in the short term. But the defense argues the new apartment management structure cannot handle the administrative burdens of continuing with the Section 8 program.

Explaining Soderberg Apartment Specialists’ policy to not accept Section 8, those types of programs don’t respond to “real-time demand or justify Defendants’ level of renovation at Concierge,” says a written reply to the plaintiffs’ injunction request. Soderberg’s business model requires flexibility of lease terms, the document continues.

Requiring Section 8 participation would constrain the property owner’s right to set rents, establish their own lease terms, manage property conditions and administer property operations as they see fit, the defense argues. The landlord has made almost $4.5 million in repairs and renovations to the complex, according to the defense, which adds that rent is likely to increase further as more improvements are made and market conditions change.

Plus, the injunction would require the HRA to take action because it is the agency administering the vouchers, the defense notes, arguing that since the HRA is not a party to the suit it could not be compelled by the judge’s decision.

But, the very nature of the Section 8 program means the HRA does not have to be party to the suit for the judge to order continued acceptance of the vouchers, the plaintiffs say. A court order that the landlord must continue with its Section 8 responsibilities would compel the HRA to continue administering the program at Concierge, the plaintiffs argue.

“The HRA is simply not a necessary party to this action,” the plaintiffs say in a court memorandum.

Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RISunCurrent.

  • lindalee soderstrom

    $710 – $760 range raised to $900 – $1,140 is not @ $100.00.