Entering Into The Agreement


Prospective tenants should be allowed to see the rental unit before they put their money down. They should also be allowed to inspect the utilities - the appliances, the electrical system, the plumbing, heating and lights - as well as locks and windows. Prospective tenants may, if they choose, make a list of any problems they discover, and may request the landlord sign the list before the potential tenants sign a lease.

Landlords can refuse to cooperate (these are not "rights" legally enforceable in court), but cooperation is advised. To have a list is in the best interest of both landlord and tenant, since it protects all parties if there is a disagreement over who is responsible for any repairs.


Some landlords require prospective tenants to pay an application fee. Many landlords do not. If required, the fee is used to cover the cost of checking the tenant's references.

Prospective tenants should ask if an application fee is required and, if so, the amount of the fee. This should be considered when deciding where to rent. Tenants should also ask if application fees are refundable and request a receipt for payment.


Landlords have the right to require tenants to pay a security deposit (sometimes called a damage deposit). This is money paid by the tenant and held by the landlord to pay for any damage beyond ordinary wear and tear the tenant might do to the rental unit, any unpaid rent, or any money the tenant owes to the landlord under some agreement. Minn. Stat. §504.20, subd. (3)(b) (1992).

The security deposit cannot be used by the tenant to pay the rent. Minn. Stat. §504.20, subd. (7)(a) (1992).

Amount of the Deposit
Minnesota law does not limit the amount a landlord may require as a security deposit. A landlord can increase the amount of the security deposit at any time during a "periodic tenancy" (a rental agreement in which no final date is mentioned), but only if the tenant is given proper notice advance written notice. Generally, this is one rental period plus a day.

If the deposit amount is stated in the rental agreement, and the rental agreement has a definite ending date, no changes in the deposit can be made except according to the provisions of the agreement, or unless both parties agree.

At the end of the tenancy, the landlord must return the deposit to the tenant with interest (four percent per year). Minn. Stat. §504.20, subd. 2 (1992). The landlord may keep the amount necessary to repair any damage done to the unit by the tenant (beyond ordinary wear and tear), or to pay off other debts, including any unpaid rent, the tenant may owe the landlord if that has been part of some agreement. Minn. Stat. §504.20, subd. (3)(b) (1992).


A "Tenant Report" is defined by Minnesota law as a written, oral, or other communication by a tenant screening service. This report consists of information about an individual's credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or lifestyle. It is collected and used, or expected to be used, to approve or deny a tenancy. Minn. Stat. §504.29, subd. 4 (1992).

The agencies that compile tenant reports are called "Tenant Screening Services." This term applies to anyone who gathers, stores, and disseminates information about tenants, or assembles tenant reports for a fee. Minn. Stat. §504.29, subd. 5 (1992).

Minnesota law requires landlords and tenant screening services to disclose the following information to a prospective tenant:

  1. The nature and substance of all information about the individual in the file at the time of request.
  2. The sources of the information. Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. (1)(a) (1992).

A tenant file must be disclosed:

  1. in person, if the tenant goes to the screening service at the location where the service keeps its files and has proper identification; Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. (1)(b)(1) (supp. 1993).
  2. by mail, if the tenant makes a written request with proper identification for the information in the file; Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. (1)(b)(2) (supp. 1993).
  3. by phone, if the tenant makes a written request with proper identification for telephone disclosure; Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. (1)(b)(3) (supp. 1993).
  4. by any other means, including electronic means if available and authorized by the tenant. Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. (1)(b)(4) (supp. 1993).

If, in the past 30 days, information from the tenant screening service has been used to deny rental, or increase the rent or security deposit of a residential housing unit, the tenant screening service is, upon request, required to make this information known to the individual without charge. If information from the tenant report was not used in this manner during the past 30 days, a reasonable fee may be charged for making the disclosure. However, the tenant screening service must tell the tenant what the fee is before furnishing the information. The fee may not exceed the amount the tenant screening service would charge a landlord to receive the tenant report. Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. 1 (1992).

If a person feels that his or her tenant report is incomplete or inaccurate, the person can require the tenant screening service to reinvestigate and record the current status of the information. If it is found to be inaccurate or no longer can be verified, the tenant screening service must delete the information from the individual's file and tenant report. The individual can request that the tenant screening service send notification of the change to anyone who received the tenant report within the last six months. Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. 2 (1992).

Also, the tenant is allowed to write an explanation of any Unlawful Detainer report or disputed item that remains in the report after a reinvestigation. This explanation must be included in the report. The tenant screening service may limit the explanation to 100 words. Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. 3 (1992).

If the owner uses information in the tenant report to deny rental, or increase the security deposit or rent of the residential housing unit, the owner is required to tell the prospective tenant the name and address of the tenant screening service that provided the tenant report. Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. 5 (1992).

NOTE: A tenant screening service cannot provide tenant reports containing information on Unlawful Detainer actions in the second (Ramsey County) and fourth (Hennepin County) judicial districts unless the tenant report accurately records the outcome of the proceeding. Minn. Stat. §504.30, subd. (4)(b) (supp. 1993). The outcome may be a settlement, entry of judgment, default or dismissal of the action.


The terms of any rental agreement are stated in the lease, which can be either a signed, written document, or an oral understanding, depending on the number of residential units in the building. If there are 12 or more residential units in the building, a written lease is required to rent one of those units. After August 1, 1994, an owner who fails to provide a written lease is guilty of a petty misdemeanor. Minn. Stat. §504.012 (supp. 1994). If there are fewer than 12 residential units, either a written lease or an oral understanding is sufficient to rent one of those units.

Any tenant with a written lease must be given a coy of the written lease. In any legal action to enforce a written lease (except for the nonpayment of rent, disturbing the peace, malicious destruction of property, or having controlled drugs on the premises), it is a defense for the tenant to show that the landlord did not give the tenant a lease. The landlord can argue against this defense by showing that the tenant had actual knowledge of the terms of the lease. Minn. Stat. §504.015 (supp. 1993).

There are essentially two kinds of leases:

  1. The periodic tenancy lease (which is generally a month-to-month, automatic renewal rental agreement). Minn. Stat. §504.06 (1992).
  2. The definite term lease (a rental agreement specifying a definite rental period, generally six months or a year). Minn. Stat. §504.06 (1992).

The laws are different for each, so we'll examine them one at a time.

Periodic Tenancy Leases
If there is nothing mentioned about the length of the tenancy in the rental agreement (which may be written or oral), the lease is a periodic one. This means the rental period runs from one rent payment to the next. Minn. Stat. §504.06 (1992). For example, if the rent is due once a month, on the first day of every month, the rental period runs from that day through the day before the next rent payment. In this case, that would be on the last day of each month.

A periodic tenancy is automatically renewed each rental period until it is ended by either the landlord or the tenant. The person ending the tenancy must give the other "proper notice." The length of notice and what form it must take will be stated in the lease. Minn. Stat. §504.06 (1992). If the lease does not state a notice requirement, state law requires written notice be given on full rental period plus one day before the tenancy's end. Minn. Stat. §504.06 (1992); Oesterreicher v. Robertson, 187 Minn. 497, 245 N.W. 825 (1932). For example, a tenant with a month-to-month tenancy who wishes to leave at the end of June would have to give written notice no later than May 31.

Definite Term Leases
If the lease states how long the tenancy will last, (usually six months or a year), the agreement is a definite term lease. These kinds of leases are usually written. (If they are for more than a year, they must be in writing.) Definite term leases generally state what kind of notice is required to end the tenancy. If there is no notice requirement, the tenancy automatically ends on the day the lease says it does, unless the landlord and tenant agree (preferably in writing) to some other kind of arrangement. Minn. Stat. §504.06 (1992).

Length Restrictions for Some Leases
If an owner has received notice of a contract for deed cancellation notice or a mortgage foreclosure sale, the owner may not enter into a long-term lease with a tenant until one of several events happens: for example, the contract for deed is reinstated, or payments under the mortgage are caught up, or the mortgage is reinstated or paid off, or a receiver is appointed for the property. Instead, the owner or a landlord may enter into a periodic tenancy lease with a term of two months or less, or a definite term lease with a term not extending beyond the cancellation or redemption period. Minn. Stat. §504.201, subd. 2 (supp. 19993).


Before signing a lease, paying rent or paying a security deposit, a prospective tenant must be given a copy of all outstanding inspection orders for which a citation has been issued. (Citations are issued by a housing inspector when a housing code is violated and the health or safety of tenants is threatened.) In addition, a tenant or prospective tenant must be given a copy of all outstanding condemnation orders and declarations that the premises are unfit for human habitation. Minn. Stat. §504.246, subd. (1)(a) (supp. 1993).

If the inspection order results in a citation but does not involve violations that threaten the health and safety of the tenant, the landlord (or person acting for the landlord) must post a summary of the inspection order in a conspicuous place in each building affected by the order. The landlord (or person acting for the landlord) must also post a notice that the inspection order is available for review by tenants and prospective tenants. Minn. Stat. §504.246, subd. (1)(b) (supp. 1993).

A landlord (or person acting for the landlord) has not violated these requirements if the housing inspector has not issued a citation, the landlord has received only an initial order to make repairs, the time allowed to finish the repairs has not run out, or less than 60 days has passed since the deadline for making the repairs. Minn. Stat. §504.246, subd. 3 (supp. 1993).


The lease should state who is responsible for paying which utility bills. In some cases the landlord pays for heat, electricity, and water. Sometimes the tenant is responsible for these bills. If this issue is not addressed in the lease, the tenant and landlord should work out their own understanding. It is good to put this agreement in writing, and have it signed by both parties.


According to Minnesota law the landlord is responsible to make sure that the rental unit is:

  1. Fit to live in.
  2. Kept in reasonable repair.
  3. Kept in compliance with state and local health and housing codes.

It is illegal for a landlord to deny responsibility for such things. These landlord obligations cannot be waived. Minn. Stat. §504.18, subd. 1 (1992).

Some repairs or maintenance duties (like yard work) can become the duty of the tenant if:

  1. both parties agree in writing that the tenant will do the work; and
  2. the tenant is paid for the work, either by a reduction in rent or a direct payment from the landlord. Minn. Stat. §504.18, subd. 2 (1992).


The tenant must not abuse the rental property, and must pay for any damage the tenant causes beyond normal wear and tear. A landlord may sue a tenant for the willful and malicious destruction of residential rental property. The party that wins may recover actual damages, costs, and reasonable attorney's fees, as well as other damages determined by the court. Minn. Stat. §504.257 (supp. 1993).


The tenant cannot alter the rental unit without the landlord's permission. Ordinarily, a tenant is not allowed to paper or paint walls, resurface floors, dismantle or install permanent fixtures, alter woodwork or carpet, or make other changes without the landlord's permission.