Q: I rent a house in St. Louis Park and have lived here since June 1, 2019. Since I moved in, my landlord has required me to get CenterPoint Energy's Home Service Plus repair plan. It actually says in my lease that I am required to sign up for Home Service Plus, cover all the major appliances with it, and, here's the kicker — I have to pay for it every month. It ends up being an extra $38.80 a month that I have to pay to cover appliances that I do not own.
I'm not sure if this is a battle I want to fight; I fear that she will terminate my lease in June if I push too hard. My previous landlord inexplicably terminated my lease, so I'm really wary of getting into it with the new landlord and consequently having to move again. That said, if it's illegal to require this, I would like to at least mention it to her, so she understands she is on thin ice with this requirement. Should I tell my landlord that it is illegal for her to require me to pay this extra amount every month?
A: In Minnesota, it is the landlord's statutory duty to comply with the Covenants of Habitability, which require landlords to make sure the rental home is in reasonable repair, fit for the use intended and in compliance with safety and health codes. It is the landlord's responsibility to make sure the appliances are up to code and work reasonably well for the tenant's use. When a landlord requires the tenant to pay for an appliance insurance plan without reimbursing the tenant, this fails to comply with the law requiring a landlord to meet the Covenants of Habitability and should not be enforced by a judge or referee. Having the tenant pay this fee directly is looked at by many as no different from requiring the tenant to call and pay workers to come and fix the appliances, something that is definitely prohibited by statute. Since state law preempts your lease language, this repair plan should not be required by your landlord.
Your landlord cannot terminate your lease because you're asserting your right as a tenant. You will be protected from retaliation by your landlord. For example, if your landlord terminates your lease, increases your rent or decreases any services within 90 days of you asserting your rights by telling your landlord the repair plan isn't legal, then it is assumed that your landlord is retaliating. To prove the landlord's actions weren't retaliation, they would have to show an independent business reason for their actions.
You should let your landlord know that you've spoken to an attorney, and that the appliance service plan is very likely not enforceable under state law.
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, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.