RENTING AND THE LAW KELLY KLEIN
Q My son and five others rented a house in the University of Minnesota area. They signed a lease from August 2007 through August 2008. In March 2008 they received an eviction notice from the city of Minneapolis, requiring them to move out of the house by the end of April.
The house was being rented as a duplex, but was not classified as a duplex by the city, limiting the occupants to three people. The landlord got the notice. When the renters discussed the situation with the landlord, they were told not to worry about it. My son found information online that this had happened to previous renters.
My son contacted the city to see if something could be done to allow them to stay until the end of school. After much ado, the landlord finally gave the city permission to inspect the property. After the inspection, the renters were informed by the city they could all stay until the end of May if they installed more smoke detectors. They did and were approved to stay. Subsequently they received a new eviction notice requiring three of the renters to move out by June 30, 2008. The renters have decided who wants to stay and informed the landlord.
The landlord insists that all six of them pay rent until the end of lease in August. My son is one of the renters who has moved out and we do not feel he should be paying rent for a property he is not allowed to occupy by the city. What recourse do we have in this matter?
A If a landlord has a rental license that permits him to charge rent for a certain number of tenants, then that landlord is properly licensed and can collect the rent.
If the landlord does not have a license, then the landlord cannot legally enforce the duty to pay rent, and may not be able to sue for unpaid rent. In your case, the landlord is only licensed to rent to three tenants after June 30, so those three are the only tenants who should be paying rent. The problem is that in the case of a house, often the rent is a total, such as $2,000, and the individual tenants divide it up.
However, since the landlord was not licensed to collect rent from all six tenants from August through June 30, they have a pretty good argument that they are entitled to sue for back rent.
If your son and his friends are students at the University of Minnesota, they should contact the Student Legal Service at 612-624-1001. If not, they should contact a lawyer familiar with consumer law or tenants' rights.
Q We recently moved out of our apartment and received a deposit refund statement from our landlord.
They charged us for two items we would like to dispute including a chip to the bathroom tub that we noted on our initial inspection report and a bent light fixture that their maintenance workers broke while repairing water damage to the ceiling.
I am seeking advice about how to best pursue the rest of our refund.
A You should first write your landlord, and ask that they change their decision to charge you for these items. If your landlord refuses to recognize your complaints, then your only option is to pursue the landlord in conciliation court for the amounts that you think were wrongfully withheld. You should ask for the penalty clauses in Minnesota Statute 504B.178.
While your landlord might argue that the amounts were in dispute, if you provide them evidence in your letter that the charges are wrong, that argument shouldn't prevail.
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 email@example.com, post your questions at www.startribune.com/kellyklein or write in care of Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.
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