Q: I discovered from the Shoreview city inspector in December 2021 that my current landlord doesn't have a rental license. I was made aware of this issue when there was a small fire in my kitchen oven on Dec. 30.
The oven coil spontaneously started on fire when I turned on the oven. I called 911 for assistance and the fire department was dispatched to my apartment. Later that day I reached out to the Shoreview city inspector to report the incident.
I had contacted him previously when I had other unresolved maintenance issues from an earlier landlord. He informed me that he didn't have my landlord's name or contact information and that my landlord didn't have an active rental license. The previous landlord sold this unit to the current landlord at the end of October 2021.
The city inspector indicated by e-mail that the oven wiring was discovered to be installed incorrectly and the circuit breaker was outdated and not up to code. I was without an oven in my apartment for 30 days. I tried to negotiate a rent credit for February 2022. My landlord refused to give me a rent credit and has openly expressed anger toward me because I contacted the city for assistance.
She also told me I have to move when my lease ends in August 2022 since she wants to move into my unit. I don't know if my landlord has purchased a rental license yet, but can I sue my landlord for the time period she didn't have a rental license? What options do I have in this situation?
A: Many cities in Minnesota, such as Shoreview, require landlords to obtain a rental license if they are renting out units or apartments to tenants. The rental license may include an annual fee, a simple notification to the city, an inspection, or some other stipulation. The licensing requirements vary depending on the city.
Oftentimes there are exceptions to the license requirement, such as if the homeowner is renting out rooms in their home while residing there. In some cities, the landlord may still be required to obtain a rental license even if they are renting out only one room in a house.
In your case, you do have some options. First, you could file a rent escrow action with the county asking for rent abatement for those 30 days you were without an oven. Also indicate in the paperwork that you'd like a rent refund due to your landlord not being licensed. You should also mention in your action that your landlord is retaliating, which is illegal, since she told you she won't be renewing your lease in August right after you contacted the city inspector about your stove fire.
It may be difficult to get a rent refund or deduction based on your landlord not having a rental license, since you did have the benefit of having a place to live. The judge may allow your landlord some time to acquire their rental license.
You could also try to resolve the situation with your landlord again by requesting a refund of some rent money for not having the use of your oven for an entire month. Since landlords have a legal duty to keep the rental unit habitable, and not having a working major appliance, such as an oven for 30 days, may be considered a violation of your lease.
If your landlord agrees to a reduction in rent for one or more upcoming months left on your lease, make sure to get that agreement in writing 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 email@example.com. Information provided by readers is not confidential.