Q: I am getting threats from my landlord to pay this month's rent. However, the city inspector came to the house and put up a notice saying that everyone has to move out before Feb. 1, 2018, because of code violations. Does my landlord have the right to collect rent for January even though he is unlicensed, and we are being forced to move?
A: Minnesota landlords have a duty in every lease to keep the place in reasonable repair and in compliance with health and safety laws, except when the disrepair or violation of the health and safety laws is caused by their tenants' conduct.
Many Minnesota cities, including Minneapolis, also require that landlords be licensed if they are renting out property to tenants. Some cities do not require licenses for rental property.
City ordinances regarding licensing rules, and the outcome of not paying rent when a landlord isn't licensed, are different depending on where you live. Some Minnesota cities consider it a criminal act for a landlord to rent without a rental license and may grant a refund of all your rent paid. However, in those situations, a landlord may argue that his or her tenant received some benefit by living in the unit and should have to pay something.
Some cities require landlords to pay a penalty and fees if they are operating without a license. There is no bright-line rule stating that you don't have to pay rent when the landlord is unlicensed, but a number of courts have determined that landlords who are unlicensed, and who own property in cities that require rental licenses, cannot collect rent.
Since you live in a city in Minnesota that requires your landlord to be licensed, and he or she is not licensed, you should contact your landlord and work out a deal whereby you leave by Jan. 31, but you don't have to pay all or part of the rent for January. Tell your landlord it is illegal for him or her to collect rent without a license, and request a written agreement releasing you from any rental fees.
You didn't mention your security deposit, but if you paid a deposit, you should include its return in the deal. Make sure the agreement is signed by both parties. You should also demand that the threats stop immediately. If your landlord continues to make threats, contact the police or consider obtaining a harassment restraining order at the courthouse in the county where you live.
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.