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Q I rent out a town home that I lived in before I got married. Last night I got a call from my tenants saying that their toilet was plugged. I couldn't clear the clog with a plunger, in part because of the style of the toilet. So today I had to hire Roto Rooter to solve the problem.

Is this my financial responsibility or theirs? The toilet is in working condition, but I am now out $140.

A Under Minnesota Statute 504B.161 the landlord has the responsibility to maintain the premises, which includes keeping the pipes and toilet in good working order.

Generally, unplugging the toilet is considered the landlord's responsibility, unless you can show that the tenant did something egregious, such as flushing a diaper or another item that obviously shouldn't go down the toilet.

You should talk with the guy from Roto Rooter to see if he knows what caused the problem. Most likely, you are stuck with that cost.

Q I have had trouble getting my security deposit back from my landlord. I rented an apartment with two other roommates, starting in September 2007; in March 2008, I left for Germany to study abroad.

I had talked to the landlord about my plans to sublet my room and he was OK with it; he even signed a conditional release stating that if someone moved into my apartment, I would be released from the lease (we did this because I was leaving within a week and my roommates and the new renter had not had a chance to re-sign the lease, which was part of the landlord's stipulation for subleasing). My roommates apparently found someone else to rent my room, but the conditional release should still hold up.

When I e-mailed the landlord in April or May requesting my share of the security deposit back, he would not give it to me; he told me that management does not do anything with a security deposit while it is still on file. I thought it was a little strange that the new renter had not paid any security deposit, but I decided to wait until the lease was up in September to ask for my money.

When I asked my former landlord about my share of the security deposit (about a week after the lease had ended), he told me that he would not give it to me because, again, he does not deal with a security deposit that was still on file with the company. He told me to talk to my former roommates because they had taken the entire security deposit from our apartment and applied it to another apartment with his company. Am I wrong to think that this landlord is being a little shady? From whom I should try to get my money (landlord or roommates), and who can help me get it?

A Technically, your landlord was holding the deposit for you, and it should have been returned to you. Your best option is to take the landlord and the roommates to small claims court and let the judge sort it out. If you don't want to go to court, then you will have to hope that either the landlord or the roommates voluntarily pay.

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, post your questions at or write in care of Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.

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