Q: I have a registered emotional support animal, my cat, Shadow. I also have a doctor’s note to show landlords who may question why I need my cat. My current landlord said that my cat needs to be out immediately, and that I have to pay $300 in fines and $100 a day for every day my cat is still living with me. They threatened eviction, but when I talked to their office, they said that I need to come down to fill out paperwork so they can reach out to my doctor about this situation. Am I still liable for the fines?
A: A landlord must consider a reasonable accommodation to allow an emotional support animal or an assistance animal if the animal is needed because of a person’s disability. Since you have registered your cat as an emotional support animal and also have a doctor’s note, you have done nothing wrong and aren’t liable for any fines. A fine of $100 a day is most likely illegal; it is considered a liquidated damages clause, which needs to be a reasonable forecast of the landlord’s damages and cannot be an excessive penalty. A court would likely determine that estimated damages amounting to $100 a day for each day your cat lives in your apartment are not reasonable and cannot be charged, especially since a landlord cannot charge for an emotional support animal. Although landlords may not charge a pet deposit or pet fees for an emotional support animal, they may require tenants to pay for damages caused by the animal, just as all tenants are responsible for damages that they or their pets cause.
It sounds like your landlord didn’t know the law on emotional support animals before issuing the fine, and now is OK with your cat living with you. If your landlord attempts to collect a fine from you, you should let him know the fine is illegal and you will not be paying it. Your landlord may try to withhold the amount from your security deposit. Again, this is not permitted because a landlord may withhold only actual damages. If your landlord does withhold an amount as a penalty, you should consider bringing an action in conciliation court.
Time limit for deposit refund
Q: I am a landlord, and I would like to know if I can give an expiration date to refund a security deposit to my tenant. Is there a deadline for the tenant to provide his new address? Can a tenant claim the deposit refund at any time, whether they wait one month or one year, or is there a time limit? The lease ended more than a month ago, and my tenant still has not provided me with a new address so that I can mail the security deposit refund.
A: Minnesota law requires a landlord to return a tenant’s security deposit, with interest, or send a written statement showing the reason for withholding all or part of the deposit, along with the remainder of the deposit, within 21 days after the tenancy ends and the tenant has provided a forwarding address. The landlord may withhold from the deposit only amounts reasonably necessary to cover any past-due rent or other funds owed based on an agreement with the tenant, or to restore the unit to its condition at the start of the tenancy, excluding ordinary wear and tear.
If your tenant fails to give you a forwarding address, then you need to mail the letter and security deposit refund to their last known address, which is your property. Your tenant may have given a forwarding address to the Postal Service, so your letter may get forwarded to your tenant’s new address. If the letter comes back to you, then keep it in a file with the security deposit refund as proof that you mailed it and it was returned. There is no time limit for a tenant to claim the security deposit refund. If the letter doesn’t get returned to you, then it probably was forwarded to your tenant’s new address.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Information provided by readers is not confidential.