During The Tenancy


Tenants must pay rent on the due date, whether they have a periodic lease or a definite term lease. The due date and amount of rent are determined by the lease. If a tenant does not pay the rent, the landlord may take legal action to evict the tenant.

If the tenant moves out before the lease ends, he or she is still responsible for paying the rent for the full term (if the lease is definite term), or for the full rental period (if it is a periodic lease), unless another tenant can be found to pick up the balance of the lease and the landlord agrees to release the original tenant from the lease.

Late Fees
The rent must be paid on the date it is due. When a tenant fails to pay the rent by the due date, the landlord has the legal right to start eviction proceedings. If a tenant misses the due date, the landlord may required the tenant to pay a late fee. The lease must state how much the late fee will be and when it is due. The late fee must be a reasonable amount that compensates the landlord for actual damages resulting from late payment, but is not designed to penalize the tenant.

Raising the Rent
Under a periodic tenancy, a landlord cannot raise the rent unless he or she gives proper written notice. Under a month-to-month tenancy, the notice is one rental period plus one day. During a definite term lease, rent cannot be raised unless the lease allows for an increase.


A landlord cannot enter the rental unit without the tenant's consent except in emergency situations. If a landlord wishes to make repairs and needs to get into a tenant's rental unit, the landlord must first get the tenant's permission, otherwise the landlord is trespassing and can be arrested or sued in court. Minn. Stat. §609.605, subd. (1)(b)(4) (1992). However, the landlord may write a provision into the lease giving the landlord the right to enter a tenant's unit under reasonable conditions, such as to make repairs, to check potential physical problems, or to show the unit to prospective new renters or purchasers. But, unless the landlord puts these provisions into the lease, the landlord's right to enter is limited to emergency situations. (It should not noted that, in practice, there is an implied right to enter if the landlord has to make required or requested repairs to the unit. The tenant should not unreasonably refuse permission to a landlord to enter in such cases. It is a good idea for the tenant and landlord to agree ahead of time when repairs may be made.)


Minnesota law requires that the landlord keep the unit in reasonable repair. This requirement cannot be waived. In other words, the lease agreement cannot say that the landlord has no duty to repair and maintain the rental unit. Minn. Stat. §504.18, subd. (1)(b) (1992). However, the landlord and the tenant can agree that the tenant will do certain specific repairs or maintenance, but only if:

  1. The requirement is in writing.
  2. The tenant receives something adequate in return (for example, a rent reduction or payment from the landlord for the work.) Minn. Stat. §504.18, subd. 2 (1992).

If the tenant has trouble getting the landlord to make necessary repairs in the unit, there are six steps the tenant can take:

  1. File a complaint with the local housing, health, energy or fire inspector - if there is one - and ask that the unit be inspected.
  2. Place the full rent in escrow with the court, and ask the court to order the landlord to make repairs.
  3. Withhold the rent.
  4. Sue the landlord in district court under the Tenant's Remedies Law.
  5. Sue in conciliation court or district court for rent abatement (this is the return of part of the rent, or, in extreme cases, all of the rent).
  6. Use the landlord's failure to make necessary repairs as a defense to either the landlord's Unlawful Detainer (eviction) action based on nonpayment of rent, or the landlord's lawsuit for unpaid rent.

We'll examine these one at a time:

Calling In An Inspector
If a local housing, health, energy, or fire inspector is called in by the tenant, and the inspector finds code violations in the unit, the inspector will give the landlord a certain amount of time to correct them. If the landlord does not make corrections, the inspector has the authority to serve a summons on the landlord to appear in court. Minn. Stat. §566.19 (1992).

NOTE: A landlord cannot retaliate (strike back) by filing an eviction notice, or by increasing rent, or decreasing services, because a tenant contacts an inspector. Minn. Stat. §566.28 (1992).

Rent Escrow
Tenants may place rent in an escrow account when a landlord will not correct housing violations. Under the Rent Escrow Law, tenants can pay their rent to the court rather than to the landlord, and ask the court to order the landlord to make repairs. Minn. Stat. §566.34 (1992). The following are the rules and procedures for rent escrow that must be strictly followed. A tenant may wish to speak with a private attorney or legal aid office for advice before proceeding. As stated earlier, the housing inspector can order the landlord to make repairs if there are violations of the housing code. Minn. Stat. §566.19 (1992). It is important to contact the inspector and get a copy of the order. If the repairs are not made within the time the inspector orders, a tenant can deposit rent with the court administrator along with a copy of the notice of code violation. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. (2)(a) (1992).

Even if there is no housing code in the tenant's area, Minnesota law provides that the landlord has an obligation to keep the dwelling fit to live in and in good repair. Minn. Stat. §504.18, subd. 1 (1992). Under the law, if the landlord has violated the duties to maintain the dwelling so it is fit to live in, to comply with state and local health and housing codes, or to keep the dwelling in reasonable repair, or if the landlord has violated the written or oral lease, the tenant must notify the landlord in writing. It is very important that the tenant keep a copy of that notice. If the problem is not corrected within 14 days, the tenant can deposit rent with the court administrator along with a copy of the notice to the landlord. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. (2)(b) (1992).

A rent escrow action can be filed at any time after the requisite notice or inspection orders have expired. To file a rent escrow action, a tenant needs to pay to the court administrator all rent, if any, that is due. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. (2)(c) (1992). There is a small filing fee, but the administrator can waive the fee if the tenant cannot pay it. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. 5 (1992). The tenant must give the administrator a copy of the inspector's order or the tenant's notice to the landlord. The tenant should estimate how much it will cost to make the repairs. The tenant must also give the administrator the landlord's name and address. A court administrator will help a tenant complete a rent escrow petition. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. 6 (1992).

Once the rent has been deposited with the court, the court administrator will schedule a hearing. The hearing will take place within 10 to 14 days. In most cases, the court will notify the landlord of the hearing by mail. However, if fixing the housing code violation will cost more than the conciliation court limit (currently $7,500) then someone other than the tenant must give the hearing notice to the landlord. A sheriff can deliver the notice. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. 6 (1992).

The landlord can take action to evict the tenant if the tenant does not deposit the full amount of rent in escrow. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. 3 (1992).

After the hearing, if the tenant proves that violation exists, the judge may do any of the following:

  1. Order the landlord to fix the problem.
  2. Allow the tenant to make the repairs and deduct the cost from the rent.
  3. Appoint an administrator to collect rent and order repairs.
  4. Return all, none, or part of the rent to the tenant.
  5. Order that future rent be paid to the court or that the rent be abated (eliminated or reduced), until repairs are made, or that part of the rent be abated or refunded.
  6. Fine the landlord. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. 10 (1992).

If the tenant does not prove that there is a housing code violation, or if the tenant does not deposit the full amount of rent with the court, then the money and deposit will be given to the landlord. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. 12 (1992).

NOTE: A tenant needs to follow the other terms of his or her lease, even when he or she pays rent into court. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. 11 (1992).

NOTE: According to Minnesota law, a tenant's rent escrow rights and remedies may not be waived or modified by any oral or written lease or other agreement. Minn. Stat. §566.34, subd. 12 (1992).

Withholding Rent
Tenants may withhold rent if there is a serious repair problem or code violation. Before withholding rent, the tenant should first:

  1. Notify the landlord, preferably in writing, of the needed repairs (both parties should keep a copy) and give the landlord a chance to make them.
  2. If the landlord does not make the repairs, notify the housing, health, energy, or fire inspector (if there is one).
  3. Get a written copy of the inspector's report.
  4. If the repairs are still not made, notify the landlord in writing that all or part of the rent will be withheld until the repairs are made. Fritz v. Wharthen, 298 Minn. 54, 213 N.W.2d 339 (1973).

If a tenant decides to withhold rent, the tenant should be prepared to defend that action in court. It is very likely that the landlord will either sue for the rent or begin eviction proceedings. Fritz v. Wharthen, 298 Minn. 54, 213 N.W.2d 339 (1973). But a landlord cannot retaliate (strike back) by filing an eviction notice or action because the tenant withheld rent or otherwise exercised the tenant's legal rights. Minn. Stat. §566.28 (1992). The tenant must not spend the withheld rent money. The tenant must bring the money to court when the tenant is summoned. Tenants who do not bring their money to court may not have their defenses heard and can be evicted.

If the court decides the tenant's argument is valid, it can do any number of things. It may, for instance, order the rent be deposited with the court until the repairs are made, or it may reduce the rent in an amount equal to the extent of the disrepair. Fritz v. Wharthen, 298 Minn. 54, 213 N.W.2d 339 (1973).

On the other hand, if the tenant loses, the tenant will have to pay all or part of the rent withheld, plus court costs. In some cases, the tenant may have to pay the landlord's attorney's fees to avoid being evicted (but only if the lease allows this).

Using the Tenant's Remedies Act
Under the Tenant's Remedies Act, a tenant can sue for:

  1. A health or housing code violation. Minn. Stat. §566.18, subd. (6)(a) (1992).
  2. A violation of the landlord's obligation to keep the rental unit in reasonable repair. Minn. Stat. §566.18, subd. (6)(b) (1992).
  3. A violation of an oral or written rental agreement or lease. Minn. Stat. §566.18, subd. (6)(c) (1992).

Before going to court under this act, a tenant should talk to the landlord about the needed repairs and try to get the landlord to fix them. If the landlord does not, after a reasonable time, the tenant should:

  1. Notify the local housing, health, energy, or fire inspector (if there is one). Minn. Stat. §566.19, subd. 2 (1992).
  2. Get a written copy of the inspector's report. This will describe the problem and allow the landlord a certain number of days to repair it. In no inspector has been used, the tenant must inform the landlord in writing of the repair problem at least 14 days before filing a lawsuit. Minn. Stat. §566.19, subd. 4 (1992).
  3. Wait for the required time to pass, and then, if the repair work has still not begun or progressed, bring suit in district court. Once in court, a tenant must produce evidence that the problem exists (and should submit a copy of the inspector's report if there is one). The tenant must also explain how the problem can be resolved. Minn. Stat. §566.20, subd. (4)(d) (1992).

Rent Abatement
Before suing for rent abatement (reduction), the tenant should try to get the landlord to make the repairs. Only after it appears that the repairs won't be made, and further requests seem fruitless, should the tenant try to bring a legal action for rent abatement.

The tenant should then be prepared to prove:

  1. The existence of a serious condition(s) affecting safety, health or the fitness of the dwelling as a place to live.
  2. That the landlord was notified, or knew, or should have known, about the defective condition(s).
  3. That the landlord failed to repair the defective condition(s), or repair it adequately, after having a reasonable time to do so. Fritz v. Wharthen, 298 Minn. 54, 213 N.W.2d 339 (1973).

Although it is unclear under present Minnesota law how the amount of rent reduction (damages or money) should be determined, the tenant may be able to recover either:

  1. The difference in value between the condition the rental unit would have been in had the landlord met the landlord's legal duty to make repairs, and the actual condition of the dwelling without the repairs.
  2. The extent to which the tenant's use and enjoyment of the dwelling has been decreased because of the defective conditions.

The tenant may sue for rent reduction in conciliation court if the amount involved is not greater than the maximum amount of the conciliation court has jurisdiction to decide. If the tenant's claim exceeds the maximum conciliation court amount, the suit for rent reduction would have to be brought in district court or be reduced to the jurisdictional limit of conciliation court. (Currently, claims of up to $7,500 can be decided in conciliation court.)


The tenant living in bad rental housing can also use the landlord's failure to make necessary repairs as a defense to:

  1. The landlord's Unlawful Detainer (eviction) action based on non-payment of rent.
  2. The landlord's suit for unpaid rent. Again, the tenant should be prepared to show that the landlord was notified, or knew, or should have known, about the defective conditions, but failed to repair them despite having a reasonable chance to do so. Fritz v. Wharthen, 298 Minn. 54, 213 N.W.2d 339 (1973).

Neighborhood Organizations
A neighborhood organization is an incorporated group in a specific geographic area that is formed to promote community safety, crime preventing, and housing quality in a non-discriminatory manner. A neighborhood organization can act on behalf of a tenant with the tenant's written permission, or it can act on behalf of all tenants in a building with a majority of the tenants' permission. Minn. Stat. §566.18, subd. 9 (1992).

In most situations, a neighborhood organization acts much like a tenant. A neighborhood organization can:

  1. Call for an inspection of a building about which they have zoning concerns. Minn. Stat. §566.19, subd. 1 (1992).
  2. Take to court the owner of a building in which a housing violation may exist.
  3. Act against all unoccupied buildings in their geographic area. Minn. Stat. §566.20, subd. 1 (1992).

If a violation is found to exist, a judge can rule in favor of the tenant(s) and/or the neighborhood organization. Among other options, the court can order the owner to comply with all housing codes, under the court's jurisdiction, for up to one year. Additionally, the court can rule against the owner of the building for reasonable attorney's fees, not to exceed $500. Minn. Stat. §566.25 (1992).

The court may appoint a neighborhood organization as the designated administrator for a building as a result of legal action. When this happens, the administrator may collect rent, contract for materials and services to remedy violations, and perform other duties as outlined by the court. Minn. Stat. §566.29 (1992).

Condemned Dwellings
A landlord is prohibited from renting property that is unsuitable for occupancy. The landlord may not accept rent or a security deposit for residential rental property that has been condemned or declared by a state or local authority to be unfit for human habitation.

The landlord is liable to the tenant for actual damages as well as three times the amount of all money collected from the tenant after the date the property is condemned or declared unfit by state or local officials. This includes court costs and attorney's fees. Actual damages can include items such as moving expenses, temporary lodging and other costs. Minn. Stat. §504.245 (1992).

If a building is condemned, a landlord must return the tenant's security deposit within five days after the tenant moves from the building, unless the tenant's willful, malicious or irresponsible conduct caused the condemnation. Minn. Stat. §566.20, subd. (3)(a)(2) (1992).