'It was a bald-faced lie': Former Bell Lofts residents feel betrayed by landlord

Former residents of a condemned north Minneapolis apartment building felt relieved when their former landlord promised to return their security deposits regardless of disputed "past-due balances" in a letter sent last Friday.

However, that relief quickly turned to anger when they went to pick up their checks. 

According to letters given to tenants and shared with FOX 9, the property management company owned by landlord Chris Webley reversed its position when residents went to collect their checks on Sunday — and took money out of the deposits to reflect amounts for past due balances that residents say are inaccurate, unfair — and not what they were promised. 

The city condemned the Historic Bell Lofts apartment building days after it was flooded when a pipe connected to the sprinkler system burst on Dec. 28. Minnesota state law requires landlords to return tenant security deposits within five days when a building is condemned. Tenants are repeating calls for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to investigate and the City of Minneapolis to deny Webley a new rental license for the property. 

"It was a bald-faced lie, and the city desperately needs to pick this up now because these tenants are really heated because of what he did," former resident Theresa Kress told FOX 9. 

Kress and other former Bell Lofts residents shared with FOX 9 letters from Webley's property management company showing that money had been taken out of their deposits. 

Webley did not respond to a request for comment. 

Issues with emergency assistance 

Many of the residents paid their rent with the help of government programs like the federal Section 8 program or short-term emergency rental assistance from Hennepin County.  

This was the case for Dorimar Cabrera, who moved into Bell Lofts in March of last year, paying a security deposit of 1,500, she said. Cabrera acknowledges she fell behind in her rent but showed FOX 9 documents indicating the applied for rental assistance to cover her past due balance. 

Cabrera says the county was unable to get a response from Webley or his property management company, which she and other tenants say was part of a larger pattern: Webley and his staff frequently did not respond to resident requests, including urgent maintenance needs. 

Cabrera says she first tried reaching out to property management, but when that didn’t work, she emailed Webley directly. She showed FOX 9 the exchange. In her email to Webley, she wrote, "I need your direct contact information for Hennepin County. I applied for Emergency Assistance, and they need your information so that they can contact you directly for payment of past due rent, once approved."

Webley replied on Nov. 14. "Dori, I appreciate the email, but please do not CC me or email directly in the future. I will no longer be responding to tenants who email directly as that is not the process." He then provided her with the email for property management, which she says she had already tried. 

In December, the county sent Cabrera a letter rejecting her application for emergency assistance, writing that. "Your landlord was unwilling to provide the information requested in order to determine your eligibility for emergency assistance."

Cabrera said she was relieved when Webley sent them an email last Friday saying he would return their deposits on Sunday regardless of the past-due balance but was left "angry and confused" when she learned that was no longer the case. 

"I don't like to be lied to, and I certainly don't like to be made feel like I'm the fool, like I'm not understanding or comprehending what they're doing," she said. "I think he's trying to take advantage of people that are not as well off as he is."

Cabrera said she has already filed a complaint with Ellison’s office. The Attorney General’s Office told FOX 9 they cannot comment on ongoing investigations, but organizers and residents confirmed to FOX 9 that Ellison’s staff has been in contact with them about their security deposits.