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Q Last year I had an apartment and my lease was for 13 months. I lost my job and eventually I lost my apartment after five months. I told them I couldn't make the court date because of interviews out of the area. They came after the remainder of the lease, which I understand, but doesn't Minnesota have a law that landlords can recover only a few months of the lease?

A A landlord can ask for the remainder of the rent, and Minnesota doesn't require a landlord to find a new tenant. The legal term is mitigate, and while that rule seems to be changing around the country, we're not there yet.

So, if the lease contains a clause that allows the landlord to accelerate the remaining rent upon a default, a landlord can ask for a judgment including that amount.

You are kind of stuck, because you have to show good cause in order to vacate the judgment, and I don't know whether a court would consider attending interviews to be sufficient. You may try to find out if the landlord did rent your unit, and then try to go back to court arguing that the landlord is double-dipping, which means a landlord cannot collect rent from a new tenant on your old apartment and also collect it from you in a judgment.

If that is the case, you may want to contact a consumer rights attorney before bringing such a suit.

Salt for softener not an even exchange for snow removal

Q We live in St. Charles and have been renting the same apartment for three years. According to our lease, the water softener is included in our rent, but our landlord has refused to buy softener salt so we made a verbal agreement that we would provide the salt if he paid for our one-third of the snow removal.

He recently told me that since he's paid our share of the snow removal the past three years he feels we should be responsible for all the cost this year.

We just signed a new lease in July that states that we are only responsible for one-third of the cost of snow removal. We have a two-year lease that goes until June 30, 2009. Can he legally do this? If he refuses to provide snow removal, what should we do?

A If you signed a lease that says he is responsible for one-third of the snow removal, then the lease governs until the terms of your lease expire, which is June 30, 2009. Whatever the lease says is the agreement. If you want to have a side agreement, put it in writing and have it signed by both parties.

If the landlord refuses to plow after you tell him the lease language governs, then you need to write him a letter stating he has 14 days to remedy the problem. If the landlord fails to snowplow, you can bring a rent escrow action against the landlord in the county where you live. Most landlords fix the problems quickly once your rent money is held by the county instead of the landlord.

Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Do not rely on advice in this column regarding a legal situation until you consult a qualified attorney; information provided by readers is not confidential; participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship, and no such relationship is created without a retainer agreement with Klein. If you have questions concerning renting, you can e-mail her at kklein@kleinpa.com, post your questions at www.startribune.com/kellyklein or write in care of Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.