Q: My husband I are renting a house. Our lease ends Aug. 31, 2017. We are also house-hunting. We’ve been living in our rental place for 3½ years. We asked our landlord if we could re-sign a month-to-month or six-month lease, since finding a home may take longer than anticipated. Our landlord refused. A friend of mine told me that Minnesota has a law stating that if you have rented the same place for more than one year, the landlord must allow month-to-month leases. Is this true?
A: There is no Minnesota law stating that a landlord is required to offer a shorter-term lease after renting to a tenant for one year or more. Your friend may be thinking of a situation in which a tenant signs a one-year lease, and that lease expires without the landlord providing another lease. In that case, the one-year lease reverts to a month-to-month lease, unless there is a carryover provision.
You should check your lease language. If there is a buyout clause allowing tenants to pay a fee to terminate their leases early, then you could take advantage of this clause if you decide to sign another one-year lease. If there is no buyout clause, then you could try to negotiate with your landlord to pay two months’ rent to terminate your lease early. However, if a buyout clause isn’t in your lease, then your landlord doesn’t have to agree to a buyout, which makes you responsible for the rent until your lease expires. If you do negotiate a buyout, remember to get the agreement in writing and signed by both parties.
Deposit vs. rent
Q: My roommate and I gave our landlord notice to move out of our apartment, since we cannot afford to pay this month’s rent. My deposit was $1,500, which is double my rent. The landlord stated that we cannot use our security deposit to cover this month’s rent, because our lease states that we cannot. The apartment is cleaner than when we moved in, so our landlord shouldn’t need to use our security deposit to make repairs. Is my landlord legally not allowed to use the deposit to cover the rent for this month?
A: In Minnesota, a landlord must return a tenant’s security deposit with interest within three weeks after the tenancy ends, or send a letter stating specific reasons for withholding all or part of the deposit. Your landlord may withhold from your deposit only an amount that is reasonably necessary to cover any past-due rent or to restore your unit to its condition at the beginning of your lease, excluding ordinary wear and tear.
Minnesota law specifically states that no tenant may withhold payment of all or any portion of rent for the last payment period of a rental agreement except when there’s an oral or written month-to-month rental agreement and neither the landlord nor the tenant has served a notice to quit. Since your lease has a clause stating that you cannot use your security deposit to cover the last month’s rent, then you are not allowed to do it. Minnesota law allows landlords to use a tenant’s security deposit to cover past-due rent owed. However, a tenant who leaves without paying last month’s rent may end up paying penalties and interest. The security deposit is a protection for landlords in order to restore the place to its condition at the start of your tenancy, not to cover last month’s rent. It is not the tenant’s right to decide that there are no damages to repair. Even though you are leaving your apartment clean with no damages, some tenants do not, which is the reason for a security deposit.
Contact your landlord. If you are unable to cover last month’s rent, do not just leave the apartment. You should discuss the problem with your landlord and work out some type of agreement. Also, make sure to get any agreement in writing and signed by both parties.
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, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.