Q: My son has lived with his wife for the past seven years at an apartment complex in Richfield. They live on the ground floor, with windows above ground, but walls below ground, on the courtyard side.
They have been flooded multiple times over the years, both from the outside as snow melts or due to heavy rain (water comes through the walls or up from the floor), from sewer backups in the tub and toilet or water through the kitchen sink, which was supposedly due to tenants above them causing the problem.
Last fall, they finally forced management to replace the carpeting and pad and it was all covered with mold. That project took them days to do as management first replaced the carpet over the moldy pad, then later replaced the pad and put the new carpet that they had put on the moldy pad back down over the new pad.
Obviously, all the problems have been a major inconvenience as they've had to move furniture, sanitize and change their day-to-day living habits many times. It's a one-bedroom apartment so there is not a lot of room to adjust and relocate furniture and find sleeping space. They've also been sick more often than young people should be, but no link to the environmental conditions was ever pursued. The carpet and pad from when they moved in were probably full of mold for years from all the water.
They were never relocated during any of these events, being forced to live around the problems and workers. They both work, but live paycheck to paycheck and have little time to spend fighting for their rights.
Recently, their bedroom flooded again with approximately 1.5 inches of water. Maintenance came in and is still running industrial fans to try and dry it out. Fortunately, my son was home after the fans were initially plugged in and found the outlet smoking because both fans had been plugged into the same outlet.
In addition, the time to decide whether or not to renew their lease came in February, which has a 90-day notice period, and they had to decide or possibly lose their housing in a few months. They signed for another year as management offered to keep their rent the same.
However, in my opinion, they should not have been forced to sign anything until the water problem is resolved. The maintenance supervisor believes the water is coming up through a crack in the floor's foundation as the walls do not appear to be wet. He said fixing the problem would require removing the concrete foundation's flooring and pouring new concrete, obviously making the apartment uninhabitable. I'm also concerned about the wiring in that outlet.
My son and his wife have always paid rent on time and caused no trouble other than complaining when things go wrong. What should they do?
A: All Minnesota landlords have a duty to make their rental units fit for the use intended, in reasonable repair, reasonably energy-efficient and compliant with safety and health codes.
Your son's apartment is a health hazard. The repairs do not seem like they are easy fixes since it's taking workers days to complete them, and probably makes their rental unit unfit for the use intended. The mold in their apartment floorboards could also be a safety and health violation.
You didn't mention if any furniture or personal belongings were ruined from the water damage. If there is damage to any of their personal property, the landlord would most likely be responsible for covering the replacement cost of those items. Also, there are restrictions regarding a 90-day notice period for renewing their lease since it may be considered an automatic renewal provision of two months or more. In that case, their landlord needs to follow certain guidelines for it to be legal and you didn't indicate those were followed.
Your son and daughter-in-law have a few different options. First, they can handle the negotiations on their own by contacting their landlord to let them know they are not satisfied with how the repairs have been handled since their apartment has been unlivable at different times and no other adequate accommodations were made for them. They can ask for a reduction in rent for all the months their apartment was uninhabitable and they were unable to enjoy their place. They should also request that their landlord provide them with another apartment in the same building or nearby that doesn't have water damage.
A second option would be to file a rent escrow action in the county where they live, which is Hennepin, and attach their recent email or letter to the landlord about repairing the water damage in their unit. If 14 days have passed and new concrete hasn't been laid, the problem has not been fixed, therefore their apartment will be flooded again in the near future. Your son and daughter-in-law should attach photos of the damage, all of their correspondence pertaining to the flooding, and any other evidence they may have as proof.
They should also ask for rent abatement during those months their apartment was undergoing repairs. They can also request that their lease be terminated due to the mold and safety hazard in their apartment.
Lastly, they could contact HOMELine (homelinemn.org), a tenants' rights organization, at 612-728-5767. Remember to let your son and daughter-in-law know that if they do enter into an agreement with their landlord, they should 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Information provided by readers is not confidential.