Q: I am currently in a lease agreement with another party who shares equal responsibility for the rent. I am not getting along with the person. We have lived in the house since June 2013, and our lease doesn’t end until June 2015. However, I have a strong desire to get out of the lease early. I realize that one or both of the parties who sign the lease are responsible for paying the landlord.
My roommate has done various things that I feel could be brought up in a court of law to absolve me of liability if I choose to leave early. He has brought a dog into the house, which has created a strong odor and mess around the place. I have had to remove several of my belongings because of the dog. I believe I’m living in a hostile environment. In addition to the smelly new dog in the house, my roommate disrespects me every day by the way he talks to me.
Do I have any legal recourse against the other tenant under the terms of the lease? Is it possible to sue the other tenant for my share of the rent for the remainder of the lease, given that the circumstances create an uninhabitable living environment?
A: As you indicated, both parties named on the lease are jointly and severally liable for the rent payment, which means that if one tenant breaks the lease and moves out without paying their share, the remaining tenant is responsible for all of the rent. However, the remaining tenant can then go after the absent tenant for his share of the rent in conciliation court.
You do have legal recourse against your tenant. Typically, only a landlord can file an eviction case, so you can request that your landlord file an eviction naming only your roommate, and not you, but this can be risky. From your description of the behavior, it sounds like your roommate is harassing you. If your roommate is threatening you, harassing you or hurting you, you can apply for an Order for Protection (“OFP”) or a Harassment Order. An OFP doesn’t require an attorney and does not cost money to file. The court could then order your roommate to stay away from your rental house. You can get an OFP to stop harassment or abuse by anyone you live with, not just relatives or spouses. To request an OFP go to the county courthouse where your rental property is located. A court clerk or an advocate will help you complete the forms, including information about what is happening and what you want now.
There may be another solution to your problem. According to Minnesota law, the landlord promises to keep your rental place and all common areas fit for the use intended by the parties. Your landlord may not know there is a dog living in the house, or may have approved your roommate’s request to have a dog in the house. Either way, it sounds like the living conditions for you have deteriorated since your move-in. If the dog is not an authorized pet on the lease, your landlord can evict your roommate for violating the lease.
Since state law requires your rental place to be fit for the intended use, and you can no longer have personal belongings lying around because of the dog, then your place is no longer fit for you to live there. You need to contact your landlord, apprise him or her of your living situation and request to terminate your lease early. Tell your landlord you can no longer live in the house under the current conditions, and that you would like to work out an arrangement that is agreeable for both you and your landlord. If you do arrange for early termination of your lease, then get that agreement in writing, signed by you and your landlord.
These situations can get complicated because you are still living with this person, so you may want to see if you two can negotiate a solution to your problem. If that won’t work, then maybe you can find a third party whom both you and your roommate trust to mediate an acceptable resolution for both parties. Remember: Any agreements should be written down 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, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.