Q: My apartment is in a smaller building with no buzzer system for letting people in. Recently, I was expecting a package in the mail. The mail carrier was not able to deliver it because he didn’t have access to the mailboxes located inside my building. The main entry door for the common area was locked, and the only way to lock or unlock it is with a key on the outside.
I asked the caretaker to make sure the doors were unlocked because mail was not delivered. He stated that it isn’t his job and that it’s everyone’s responsibility to lock and unlock the door, even though he regularly unlocks the door in the early morning and locks it back up around 10:30 p.m. There is nothing in my lease about having to lock and unlock that common area door, but there are notes up stating that tenants need to lock the door. I thought that if tenants are required to perform work, it must be stated in their lease, or that tenants need to be compensated for performing any work in the building. Are tenants responsible for locking and unlocking the entry doors for mail delivery, when they aren’t being paid and it’s not in their lease?
A: Landlords are responsible for keeping the place in reasonable repair, compliant with safety and health codes, and fit for the use intended. There is no law regarding who is responsible for locking the common area doors, absent something in your lease or the building caretaker’s agreement. In Minnesota, landlords are allowed to have their tenants perform repairs or maintenance in their rental home or apartment. However, the agreement to perform that work must be in writing, such as a lease or another document, and the tenant must be fairly compensated. Whether or not locking and unlocking a common area door would qualify as performing work or maintenance around your building is questionable, but would most likely not be considered work.
Landlords and caretakers often put up signs around the building making tenants aware of events such as when to move cars for plowing purposes, when electrical power in the building will be down, when maintenance in the building is going to occur, and so on. Since locking and unlocking a common area door is more of a safety and mail delivery issue, it probably doesn’t amount to performing work that would require payment by your landlord. That said, you should follow the caretaker’s instructions for locking and unlocking the door as much as possible, but if you forget to lock or unlock it, that is not a violation of your lease. Moreover, most apartments have doors that automatically lock every time they are closed, which eliminates the need to hold people responsible for locking the doors, and improves on safety in the building. You could talk to the other tenants in the building to see if together you could get your landlord to change the common area door so that it automatically locks at night. Many apartment buildings have the mailboxes in an unlocked common area for the mail carrier’s easy access, but then for safety reasons, when leaving a package, the mail carrier has the caretaker let him in to leave the package inside. Your building makes that difficult since the mail carrier cannot call or buzz your caretaker. If you and other tenants band together to request changes to this system, your landlord might make that happen. In the end, it’s less expensive for landlords to keep their tenants happy than to have turnover in their building.
Rental license info
Q: How do I find out if my landlord has a rental license?
A: Many cities in Minnesota require that a landlord be licensed in order to rent out apartments, homes or even just a room in their house. The licensing requirements vary by city, and some cities do not require a landlord to obtain a rental license. To find out whether or not your landlord has a rental license you should first look up the licensing requirement of the city where you are renting, to see if a license is even required. For example, if you are renting in Minneapolis and need to know if a rental license is required, you should go to the following website: minneapolismn.gov/inspections/rental/index. Once there, you will see that a license is required for all rental property in Minneapolis, unless the landlord is living in the home and takes in renters. A short-term rental property registration, not a rental license, is required for an owner who lives at the property, rents out an entire unit and leaves the property during the rental period. After you find out if a rental license is required for your rental in Minneapolis, and then want to find out if your landlord has a rental license, you should go to the following website: www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/propertyinfo/index.htm and click on the “Search Property Info” tab. A space will pop up for you to type in your unit’s address. Once you do that, and then click on the search button, the property pops up and you will be able to click on it to get details about that property, including whether or not it has a rental license.
You don’t need a computer to determine whether your city has a rental license requirement or whether your landlord has a rental license. You can also call the city offices where your rental property is located, and an employee working there could probably look it up. For example, in Minneapolis, you can call 612-673-3000; agents are available Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to answer questions. Depending on the city where you are renting, you should be able to look up the rental licensing requirements on the city’s website and get your answer, or contact a city employee with your question using the phone number on that city’s website. If you don’t have a computer, you can also just call information for the city office phone number, and ask for Rental Licensing.
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, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.