Q: I’ve lived in my apartment for 11 months and have signed another lease. Last month the landlord notified us about doing renovations in our apartment over a four-day span. The renovations were not an emergency or necessary; they replaced the carpet with hardwood floors, and installed new kitchen cabinets and countertops. They made us pack up our entire place, and told us we could stay in the unit during the renovations. I decided to get a hotel for those four days, but then we were notified that the renovations would be pushed back. Long story short, they postponed it multiple times after we had already packed up our apartment, and we ended up staying in a hotel at $80 a night for 14 nights. I told them that it didn’t sound like the apartment would be habitable during the renovations. I also didn’t want to be around the workers as I am a high-risk person for the coronavirus. When we returned to the apartment, it was very dusty. At one point during the renovations, we checked in, and there was no way we could have lived in our apartment during that time. I have asked our landlord to lower our rent, but I am not sure they are going to agree to this. So far I have not paid the rent owed. They want $1,900, but I spent more than $1,000 on hotels. I think the fact that they made my place uninhabitable means they should lower my rent substantially. What are my options?
A: Minnesota law states that in every lease the landlord promises to keep the place fit for the use intended, in reasonable repair and in compliance with local health and safety laws. Typically, when renovations need to be made, the landlord works out an arrangement with the tenants before construction starts, either moving them to a comparable unit within the building, or relocating them and covering the cost. It sounds like your landlord didn’t anticipate the extent of the renovations and that you’d have to relocate. In your description, it doesn’t sound like you could have remained in your apartment while the work was being done so your apartment was not fit for the use intended. You should contact your landlord and ask them to waive one month’s rent because your apartment was uninhabitable and you were inconvenienced by having to move out and pay for a hotel. You may face a problem in that you didn’t first get approval from your landlord to move to a hotel and have them cover that expense. If your landlord doesn’t agree to the one-month rent reprieve, then you should file a rent escrow action in the county where your apartment is located. You will need to place your rent money with the court, if any is due at the time, along with your hotel receipts and any other evidence you may have. If you do work out an agreement with your landlord, make sure to get it in writing and signed by both parties.
Q: I live in a rental unit, and my lease is coming up at the end of the month. My phone, cable and internet are included in my rent, but on my renewal date they will be removed, and I will have to get my own. My problem is that they are not lowering my rent by the $150 they say it will take to replace these items. They raised the rent 2%. I feel they are taking advantage of the people in this building. They want to keep the $150 per month, giving nothing in return, and then I have to pay another $150 to get the services I need. Is this legal?
A: Landlords may raise the rent to any amount they choose once their tenants’ lease term ends. Landlords cannot raise rent during the term of the lease. Many landlords choose to raise rents by only a small amount, to keep their tenants from moving elsewhere. However, there is no maximum amount that landlords can raise their rents to, with a few exceptions, such as government-assisted housing. It is legal for your landlord to stop covering the cost of your phone, cable and internet once your lease is up. Your landlord does not have to give you something in return. Your landlord also can raise your rent in addition to not covering utilities covered in the past. The landlord risks losing some tenants because of this increase in expenses, but it’s a risk they may be willing to take if the building is popular. You do have options, such as telling your landlord that you want to stay in the apartment but that you’d need your rent lowered by $150 a month. It doesn’t hurt to try and negotiate. Another option is to move to a less expensive apartment. If your landlord agrees to lower your rent or make some other concession, make sure to get any agreement in writing and signed by both you and your landlord.
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 email@example.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.