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Q I live in an over-55 apartment. We have a good security system in the building, but at times people get locked out of the building or their apartment. So the owners have given master keys to two residents who are available when the office is closed to let people in.

The problem is that one of those people has a daughter who also lives here, so she has access to the master keys, which allows her into any of the locked areas, including our apartments. This makes us uncomfortable.

Without going into details, the daughter is intimidating. While we have no knowledge that she has ever entered any of the apartments, we know that she does have the keys. The building manager is aware of our concerns, but he isn't willing to do anything about it.

Is there anything we can do, short of moving out?

A Minnesota Statute 299C.66 to 299C.71 outlines a landlord's duties when hiring a manager who has access to individual units. These statutes prohibit a landlord from hiring anyone who has been convicted of certain crimes. The law that covers a landlord's duties with respect to a master key doesn't apply to someone "who is hired on a casual basis and not in the ongoing course of the business of the owner."

Because the daughter of the tenant is not actually an employee, a court might find that the statute doesn't apply -- although it's more likely that the exception was created to cover employees and third parties whom a landlord retains to provide other work, such as roof repair and landscaping.

While someone might be loud and intimidating, that doesn't necessarily mean such a person is as likely to break into a unit and rob someone as someone with a criminal record. In addition, if you complain to the landlord and the landlord does nothing, you don't have many options.

Your only real options are to discuss the matter with the landlord again, indicating that you and many others are uncomfortable with this person having access to a master key. Ask your landlord to give the master key to another resident. If the landlord does nothing, send a letter confirming your conversation, and ask your landlord to reconsider.

If the landlord still doesn't make a change, you can pursue a rent escrow action, asking that the court order the landlord to reconsider or void your lease, because you are so uncomfortable staying somewhere that you don't feel safe. Unfortunately, this is a long shot.

Your final option is to move when your lease is up. Since this is an over-55 building, I assume that this might be a hardship, too. Ideally, your landlord will see the light and place the master key with a different resident, especially since other tenants feel the same way.

Cleaning fees

Q My landlord withheld part of my security deposit based on a cleaning fee that was identified in my lease. Admittedly, there were areas I didn't get as clean as they were when I moved in, but wouldn't that just fall under "normal wear and tear"? I recall my lease saying I would be charged a fee of $30 an hour for cleaning upon moving out. Can landlords do that?

A Minn. Stat. 504B.178 gives a landlord the right to withhold amounts from the damage deposit as necessary to return the property to the condition at the time of rental, excluding ordinary wear and tear.

Most courts allow a landlord to charge costs for cleaning the unit, because a dirty unit is not considered ordinary wear and tear. A small minority of courts deem cleaning to be a business cost of the landlord.

Depending on the amount withheld, you can pursue the matter in conciliation court, but it isn't likely you will win.

Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.