Landlords Are Finally Facing Consequences for Trying to Evict People in a Pandemic

A Minnesota landlord allegedly cut his tenants' electricity when they couldn't find another place to go.
April 9, 2020, 5:27pm
Without the moratoriums and legal actions, experts feared an onslaught of evictions and foreclosures due to the sheer number of tenants that would be unable to make rent in an era of tremendous job loss.

A landlord in rural Minnesota apparently wasn’t letting widespread eviction moratoriums stop him from kicking out his tenants during the coronavirus pandemic. So, when renters refused to leave after their lease was up this month — they wanted to obey the governor’s orders to “shelter-in-place” to protect their immunocompromised child, and couldn’t find another place to go — he allegedly shut off their electricity.

The tenants complained, and their landlord, Howard Mostad, was subsequently ordered to leave them be in a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Keith Ellison last week. The state won a temporary restraining order on Tuesday, meaning Mostad will be required to turn the family’s electricity back on and avoid taking any legal action against them for the time being.

Without the moratoriums and legal actions, experts feared an onslaught of evictions and foreclosures due to the sheer number of tenants that would be unable to make rent in an era of tremendous job loss. The current patchwork of legal orders and moratoriums keeping tenants in place across the country is expected to expire over the next few months, however, leading advocates to fear that more people will be kicked to the curb, still, if greater actions aren’t taken. This month, a third of tenants in the U.S. failed to pay even a portion of their rent, according to data published Wednesday by the National Multifamily Housing Council, a landlord trade organization.

READ: A Whole Lot of You Didn't Pay Your Rent This Month

“Most landlords are doing the right thing by their tenants who are affected by this emergency, and I thank them for it. But if you’re not, my office is showing that we won’t hesitate to make sure you do,” Ellison said in a statement. The state is expected to hold a hearing April 13 to determine whether the temporary restraining order will extend for the duration of the lawsuit.

Mostad is representing himself in court; he couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Thursday. Speaking to the Guardian, however, the 77-year-old likened the actions taken by the government to a “communist takeover,” and said his business had been tough for him. (The family wasn’t behind on rent, however.)

“Mostad refused to restore electricity to the home and stated he did not believe

they should be allowed to continue residing in the home even after being informed about

Executive Order 20-14,” attorneys wrote in their initial complaint, referencing Gov. Tim Walz’ order to quash eviction proceedings during the pandemic. Landlords who violate that order face fines of $1,000 or 90 days in jail. “Mostad concluded the call by calling Assistant Attorney General (Katherine) Kelly a “bitch” and then hung up the phone.”

The tenants, who are not named in the lawsuit to protect their privacy, are hardly alone in having their housing threatened during a public health emergency. After hearing a slew of complaints about aggressive landlords trying to carry out so-called “self-help evictions,” wherein landlords try to push tenants out by changing the locks or other forms of illegal harassment, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said Wednesday that police departments were welcome to arrest those landlords for trespassing.

"We heard about a woman whose landlord cut the power to her Providence apartment, where she lived with her 7-year-old daughter. While the tenant was out trying to find another apartment, the landlord changed the locks and threw out all her remaining belongings," Neronha said in a statement. "This type of conduct is what we are concerned about."

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