Spiros Zorbalas, the former slumlord of South Mpls, still flying his private jet
|Spiros Zorbalas on the cover of City Pages in January 2008.|
After a legal battle with the City of Minneapolis that spanned nearly two years, Zorbalas finally sold his 38 buildings (that's 752 units) to local developer Steve Frenz in mid-December. But the fight didn't leave Zorbalas struggling or repentant. Instead, he still hangs out in his South Florida mansion and flies his private plane.
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When the Star Tribune's Randy Furst contacted Zorbalas about the sale, the landlord said city pressure hadn't influenced his decision to get out of Minneapolis. "It was pure economics and Gary Schiff and his rhetoric made no difference whatsoever," he told Furst in a text message. "I am living on the beach in Naples and flying on my personal jet, not him."
By contrast, many of Zorbalas's units -- with their horror stories of lead paint, broken heat, roach infestations -- were rented by low-income families. Of his about 2,000 tenants, many were Spanish-speaking immigrants who, according to Council Member Gary Schiff, were often hesitant to call the city and report problems.
"He was using the tenants as human shields," says Schiff, whose ward includes 11 of Zorbalas's former properties.
Our cover from 2008 and an update in 2010 reported specific examples of Zorbalas's code violations. But they hadn't let up in recent years.
Jean James moved out of a Zorbalas property near Loring Park in December. She lived on the fourth floor of the building, and the elevator would go out for up to several weeks at a time. James has a lung disease known as COPD that made the stairs difficult for her, and the climb exacerbated her condition.
Since the elevator was broken "more often than not," she bought a stadium seat to take breaks on the landing as she went in and out of her apartment. It was worse for her elderly neighbor, a woman who uses a walker and who lives on the building's seventh floor.
James has since joined the ranks of over 200 tenants who have sued Zorbalas. Though she's now fled the building, she says she's glad to hear that Zorbalas is out. "I do still have friends in that building," she wrote in an email. "I worry about them. Those tenants don't deserve the treatment they (and I) got under Zorbalas."