Housing courts in Ramsey and Hennepin counties hear and decide criminal and civil cases related to residential rental housing. This includes, for example, claims for rent abatement, rent escrow proceedings, eviction actions, and actins for violations of state, county or city housing codes. Housing courts ensure that housing claims are brought before a single, trained referee. This is to encourage consistent decisions and prompt compliance with Minnesota's housing laws.
Ramsey and Hennepin County District Courts appoint a referee to hold hearings and make recommended decisions. After the hearing in each case, the referee's recommended findings and orders are sent to the district court judge. These become the findings and orders of the court when confirmed by the district judge. The landlord or tenant can ask the district court judge to review any order or finding recommended by the referee. The person who is requesting the review must file and serve (provide to the other party) a notice of the recommended order or finding. (This must occur within 10 days). This notice must explain the reasons for requesting a review, and state the specific parts of the recommended findings or orders that are disputed. After receiving this notice, a time for the review hearing will be set. And after the hearing, the district court judge will decide whether the accept, reject or change the referee's recommended decisions.
Hennepin and Ramsey county landlords and tenants are encouraged to use the housing courts to resolve housing related disputes that they cannot work out themselves.
Unlawful Detainer Actions
With proper written notice, a landlord can end a month-to-month tenancy at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all, unless the landlord is retaliating or discriminating against the tenant. Definite term leases can only be ended according to the notice specified in the lease, or if there has been a significant breach of the lease.
Landlords cannot forcibly remove their tenants. In order to evict, a landlord must first bring an "unlawful Detainer" action against the tenant. This is a legal proceeding conducted before a district court. To bring such an action, however, the landlord must show cause (have a legitimate reason). According to state law, legitimate reasons can be nonpayment of rent, or other breach of the lease, or cases where the tenant has refused to leave after notice to vacate has been properly served and the tenancy's last day has passed. Minn. Stat. §566.03 (1992).
There are a number of steps both landlords and tenants must take in an Unlawful Detainer action:
If a tenant has paid the landlord or the court the amount of rent owed, but is unable to pay the interest, costs and attorney's fees (limited to a maximum of $5), the court may permit the tenant to pay these amounts during any time period the court delays issuing a writ or restitution (eviction order). Minn. Stat. §504.02, subd. 1 (1992).
If the Unlawful Detainer has been brought because the tenant has not paid the rent, and the landlord wins, the tenant may pay the back rent plus costs and still remain in possession of the unit, provided payment is made before possession of the rental unit is delivered to the landlord.
If the Unlawful Detainer has been brought because the tenant has withheld the rent due to disrepair, and the tenant wins, the judge may order that the rent be abated (reduced) in part or completely.
It should be understood that only a sheriff or sheriff's deputy can physically evict a tenant. The landlord cannot do this. A "Writ of Restitution" - which is issued at the time the decision is handed down - must be posted on the premises at least 24 hours before the actual eviction. The sheriff can show up to perform the eviction anytime after the 24 hours have expired. Minn. Stat. §566.17, subd. 1 (1992).
of Personal Property
When the sheriff performs the eviction, the tenant's remaining property must either be stored on the premises or placed in storage in a bonded warehouse or other suitable storage place. Minn. Stat. §566.17, subd. 2 (1992).
In cases where the tenant's property will be stored on the premises, the landlord must prepare an inventory that is signed and dated in the presence of a peace officer. A copy of the inventory must be mailed to the tenant at the tenant's last known address, or to an address provided by the tenant. Minn. Stat. §566.17, subd. (2)(b) (1992). The inventory must include the following:
The officer must keep a copy of the inventory. The landlord is responsible for the proper removal, storage and care of the defendant's personal property and is liable for damages to, or loss of, the tenant's personal property if the landlord fails to exercise care in regard to that property.
The landlord should notify the tenant of the date and approximate time the officer is scheduled to remove the tenant and his or her personal property from the premises. The notice should be sent by first class mail. The landlord should also make a good faith effort to notify the tenant by telephone, explicitly informing the tenant that the tenant and the tenant's property will be removed from the premises if the tenant has not vacated by the time specified in the notice. Minn. Stat. §566.17, subd. (2)(b) (1992).
According to Minnesota law, this provision may not be waived or modified by any oral or written lease or other agreement. Minn. Stat. §566.17, subd. 3 (1992).
To Get the Property Back
In cases where the tenant's personal property is stored on the premises, the tenant need only contact the landlord in writing to demand return of the property.
In cases where the tenant's property is stored away from the premises (at a bonded warehouse or other suitable storage place) the landlord has a lien (legal claim) on the tenant's personal property for the reasonable costs of removing, transporting, and storing the property. The landlord can enforce this lien by keeping the property until the landlord's expenses are paid. Minn. Stat. §566.17, subd. (2)(b) (1992).
Regardless of whether the tenant's property is stored on or away from the premises, the tenant, to get the property back, does not have to pay any unpaid rent, security deposit, or late charges. The landlord can sue the tenant in court for these items. Tenants who lose Unlawful Detainer actions, however, do have to pay court costs.
for Manufacture and Sale of Drugs
Every oral or written residential lease now includes a promise by the tenant not to make, sell, possess, or allow illegal drugs on the premises. A tenant violating this law loses the right to possess the rental property and the landlord may file to evict the tenant without giving one rental period's notice. Minn. Stat. §504.181, subd. 1 (1992).
If illegal drugs or contraband totaling more than $100 are seized from the property, the landlord, on being notified, Minn. Stat. §609.5317, subd. 4 (1992). has fifteen days to file to evict the tenant, or to assign the county attorney that right. Minn. Stat. §609.5317, subd. (1)(b) (1992).
Landlords receiving notice of a second such occurrence involving the same tenant (on any residential rental property owned by the landlord in the same county and happening within one year after notice of the first occurrence) are subject to forfeiture of the property unless they have filed to evict the tenant or have assigned the county attorney that right. Minn. Stat. §609.5317, subd. (1)(c) (1992). Forfeiture of the property may occur if the value of the controlled substance is $1,000 or more, or there have been two previous controlled substance seizures involving the same tenant. Minn. Stat. §609.5317, subd. 4 (1992).
A tenant has a defense against eviction if the tenant has no knowledge or reason to know about the drugs or contraband, or could not prevent them from being brought onto the premises. Minn. Stat. §609.5317, subd. 3 (1992).
A landlord has a defense if he or she was not notified of the seizure or had made every reasonable attempt to evict a tenant or to assign the county attorney that right. If the property is owned by a parent of the offender, the rental property cannot be forfeited simply based on the owner's knowledge of unlawful drug use (unless the parent actively participated in, or knowingly allowed the unlawful activity, or the rental property was purchased with unlawful drug proceeds.) Minn. Stat. §609.5317, subd. 3 (1992).
Unlawful sale or possession of illegal drugs or alcohol within a building, repeated seizures of illegal drugs within a building, or repeated arrests for illegal drug offenses within a building are now a public nuisance. Minn. Stat. §617.81 (1992). A city attorney, county attorney, or the attorney general may file an abatement action against the landlord, and if the nuisance is not corrected, ask the court to seize the building. Minn. Stat. §617.83 (1992).
A landlord cannot evict a tenant or end a tenancy in retaliation for the tenant's "good faith" attempt to enforce the tenant's rights. Neither can a landlord respond to such an attempt by raising the tenant's rent, cutting services, or otherwise adversely changing the rental terms. If a tenant has, for instance, reported the landlord to a governmental agency for violating health, safety, housing, or building codes, the landlord cannot try to "get even" by evicting the tenant.
If a landlord starts an eviction action by giving the tenant a notice to vacate within 90 days after the tenant has tried to enforce the tenant's rights, the law presumes that the landlord is retaliating. It will then be up to the landlord to prove the eviction is not retaliatory. But if the landlord's notice to vacate comes more than 90 days after a tenant exercises his or her rights, it will be up to the tenant to prove the eviction was retaliatory. These provisions apply even to oral rental agreements. Minn. Stat. §566.28 (1992).
It is a misdemeanor for a landlord to physically lock a tenant out of the tenant's rental unit or otherwise exclude a tenant (for example, by removing locks, doors, or windows from the rental unit) without a court order. A tenant who has been unlawfully locked out may petition the district court to get back in. The petition must:
If the court agrees with the tenant, it will order a law enforcement officer to help the tenant get back in. If the court decides that the landlord knew (or should have known) that the lockout or other exclusion was unlawful, the court may order the landlord to pay the tenant up to triple damages or $500, whichever is greater, plus reasonable attorney's fees. Minn. Stat. §504.255 (1992).
Also, a landlord cannot cart away or keep a tenant's belongings for nonpayment of rent or other charges. If a tenant finds that the landlord has taken the tenant's things, the tenant can get them back by demanding, in writing, that they be returned. The landlord has 24 hours to return them (48 hours if they are somewhere other than the apartment). If they aren't returned, the landlord may be sued in conciliation court where he or she may be ordered not only to give the property back, but to pay the tenant punitive damages of up to $300 in addition to actual damages (cost of storage, hauling, physical damage, replacement, etc.) and reasonable attorney's fees. Minn. Stat. §504.24, subd. 2 (1992).
In trying to evict a tenant, a landlord may combine two claims: (1) the tenant owes past rent, and (2) the tenant broke the lease.
In a case where the landlord claims that the tenant owes past rent, the tenant does not have to pay into court the unpaid rent to defend against a claim that the tenant broke the lease.
If the landlord loses on the claim that the tenant broke the lease, but the landlord has also claimed that the tenant owes past rent, the tenant can present defenses why the tenant doesn't owe the past rent.
If the court determines that the tenant does indeed owe at least some of the past rent, the tenant shall be given up to seven days to pay the rent. The court can order the tenant to pay the rent, and any costs, either directly to the landlord or to be deposited with the court.
A landlord may not unlawfully shut off a tenant's utilities. To do so with an intent to make the tenant move out is a misdemeanor. Minn. Stat. §504.25 (1992).
If a landlord has unlawfully cut off utility services, a tenant can sue the landlord in court to recover triple damages or $500, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney's fees. However, a tenant may recover only actual damages if:
Tenants, finding their utility service cut off, should notify the landlord immediately. Minn. Stat. §504.185, subd. 2 (1992). If service is not restored within a reasonable time, they should notify a housing inspector (if there is one available). A tenant may bring an emergency action in court if the landlord unlawfully cuts off utilities. Minn. Stat. §566.205 (1992).
of Essential Services
When a landlord has contracted to pay for utilities but fails to pay and the utility company gives notice that services will be cut off, or if the utilities are shut off, the tenant or a group of tenants may pay to have the services continued or reconnected and may deduct that payment from their rent. But the tenant(s) must follow certain steps.
The tenant must notify the landlord either orally or in writing of the tenant's intention to pay the utility if, after 48 hours, the landlord fails to pay. Under certain circumstances, the notice period can be shorter. For example, if the furnace stops in the middle of winter because of lack of fuel that the landlord was supposed to provide, less than a 48 hour notice should be considered reasonable. The law states that if the landlord is notified orally, written notice must be mailed or delivered to the landlord within 24 hours after the oral notice. Minn. Stat. §504.185, subd. 2 (1992).
If the landlord has not paid the natural gas, electricity, or water utility, and the service remains disconnected, the tenant may pay the amount due for the most recent billing period. Minn. Stat. §504.185, subd. (2)(a) (1992). If the disconnected service is heating oil or propane, and the service has not been reconnected, the tenant may order and pay for a one-month supply. Minn. Stat. §504.185, subd. (2)(b) (1992).
If this problem occurs the tenant should obtain receipts, give them to the landlord and keep copies for the tenant's records. After providing receipts to the landlord, the tenant may deduct from the next rental payment the amount paid to restore these utility services.
By law, any payments made to a utility provider in this manner must be considered the same as rent paid to the landlord. Minn. Stat. §504.185 (1992).
Utilities include natural gas, water, electricity, home heating oil and propane. Minn. Stat. §504.185 (1992). This law applies to all utility providers, including municipalities and cooperatives that in most cases are not regulated by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Minn. R. 7800.1600, subp. (6)(a) (1993)
This utility cannot collect payment from the tenant of the landlord's old bills. Also, the utility may not refuse service to a tenant due to the landlord's failure to pay old bills. Minn. R. 7820.1400 (1993).
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission developed the Cold Weather Rule to protect a tenant (or homeowner) from having their heat source disconnected in winter if they are unable to pay their utility bills. The rule is in effect from October 15 through April 15 and applies to utilities regulated by the state. Minn. R. 7820.1500 (1993).
The Cold Weather Rule does not prohibit shut-offs but does provide three levels of protection: 1) Inability to Pay status, Minn. R. 7820.1900 (1993); 2) Ten Percent Plan, Minn. R. 7820.1600, subp. (5)(a); Minn. R. 7820.1900 (1993); and 3) Payment Schedule, Minn. R. 7820.1600, subp. 4; Minn. R. 7820.2100 (1993). In order to qualify for Inability to Pay status or the Ten Percent Plan a tenant's annual income must not be more than 185 percent of the federal poverty level (current poverty level is $14,800 for a family of four, so income must be less than $27, 380 to qualify for this plan) and the tenant must be willing to set up and keep a payment plan. Eligibility for Inability to Pay status requires the tenant to have a current account as of October 15 when the Cold Weather Rule season begins.
Any residential customer, regardless of income or account status, may qualify for a payment schedule. Minn. R. 7820.2100 (1993). The rule also provides a Reconnection Plan for those who meet the income guidelines and whose service remains disconnected on October 15. Minn. R. 7820.2300 (1993).
For more information about eligibility, or about applying for protection under the Cold Weather Rule, contact your local utility or call the Consumer Affairs Office of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission at (612) 296-0406.
Customers of unregulated utilities - cooperative electric associations and municipal utilities - also have some protection from having their heat source disconnected in the winter. Minn. R. 7820.1600, subp. (6)(a) (1993). A municipal utility or a cooperative electric association cannot shut off the service of a residential customer between October 15 and April 15 if:
Without receipt of a written disconnection notice, a customer's utility service cannot be shut off. The consumer must be informed of the date that disconnection will occur, the reason for disconnection, and options to avoid disconnection. The notice must be written in easy-to-understand language and must be issued at least five days prior to disconnection, excluding Sundays and legal holidays. Minn. R. 7820.2400 (1993).
Minnesota law gives tenants (depending on income and amount of rent paid) a partial refund for the property taxes they pay directly or indirectly through their rent. To be eligible a tenant must be a renter in a property tax-paying unit. But if the tenant is renting from the government, or a private college, some other person, or other entity not required to pay taxes, the tenant is not eligible for a refund.
To claim the credit, the tenant must file with the Minnesota Department of Revenue a property tax refund return form (M-LP) and include with it a "certificate of rent paid" that the landlord must supply to the renter by January 31 of each year. If there is a disagreement between the tenant and the landlord over how much the tenant can claim, or if the landlord fails to provide a certificate of rent paid form, a "Rent Paid" affidavit can be requested from the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Credit must be filed with the Department of Revenue by August 31. Questions may be directed to the department at (612) 296-3781, or 1-800-652-9094. Minn. Stat. §290A.19, subd. 2 (1992).
According to Minnesota law, landlords cannot legally refuse to sell, rent or lease housing to potential tenants, or have different rental terms, on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, martial status, sexual or affectional orientation, disability, or reliance on public assistance. Minn. Stat. §363.03, subd. (2)(a) (1992). (But there is an exception to this: an owner or occupier living in a one-family unit may refuse to rent part of the premises on the basis of sex, marital status, sexual or affectional orientation, disability, or reliance on public assistance). Minn. Stat. §363.02, subd. (2)(b) (1992).
Likewise, a landlord, for discriminatory reasons, cannot decrease services that have been promised in the lease. Minn. Stat. §363.03, subd. (2)(b) (1992). It is also illegal for landlords to discriminate against people with children (this is also called "familial status"). But there are some important exceptions to this prohibition.
Landlords can refuse to rent to persons with children when:
To qualify for this second exemption the housing must:
Complaints about discrimination should be filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, 500 Bremer Building, 7th Place and Minnesota St., St. Paul, MN 55101; (612) 296-5663, or toll free, 1-800-657-3704. In Minneapolis, St. Paul, and some other localities, such complaints may also be filed with municipal civil or human rights departments. Minn. Stat. §363 (1992).
Minnesota law now requires that a disabled person, or a family with a disabled family member, must be given priority to handicapped-equipped rental housing. This law provides that if a non-disabled person, or a family that does not include a disabled person, is living in a handicapped-equipped unit, the owner must offer to rent a non-handicapped-equipped apartment to that person or family if:
The law requires that the owner must inform non-disabled people and families that do not include a disabled family member of the possibility of being offered a non-handicapped-equipped rental unit. This information must be provided before an agreement is made to rent an equipped unit. Minn. Stat. §363.033 (1992).
Landlords must provide their tenants, in writing, with the name and address of:
The addresses given should be something more detailed than a post office box number.
The disclosure can be inserted in the rental agreement or in the lease or can be put in some other written form. But it must also be printed or typed and posted by the landlord in some clearly visible place on the premises. Minn. Stat. §504.22, subd. 3 (1992).
The disclosure is important because the tenant must have a way of contacting the landlord or agent when repairs are needed or other problems arise. Also, a landlord cannot take any legal action against a tenant to recover rent or to evict unless the disclosure has been given. Minn. Stat. §504.22, subd. 5 (1992).
Tenants who move out of a rental unit, or sublet their unit without giving the owner 30 days written notice, lose the protection of the disclosure law. Minn. Stat. §504.22, subd. 6 (1992).
Subleasing means having another person "take over" a tenant's unit by moving into the unit, paying rent and doing all the things the original tenant was supposed to do under the rental agreement. If nothing in the lease prohibits subletting, then the tenant can sublet. This means that the new tenant takes over the old tenant's duties, including paying the rent. It is best to get these agreements in writing and signed by both parties. Still, if the new tenant does not pay the rent, or if he or she damages the unit or leaves before the lease is up, the original tenant will be responsible to the landlord for any damages or unpaid rent. The original tenant can sue the new tenant for these costs.
Most leases say the tenant can sublet only if the landlord agrees to it. If the tenant and landlord agree to sublet, it is best to get this agreement in writing.
Any personal property a tenant leaves behind after moving out must first be stored by the landlord. The landlord can collect from the tenant all moving and storage costs. But the tenant can get his or her property back before paying the moving and storage costs. If the tenant refuses to pay the moving and storage costs the landlord can sue the tenant to recover those costs. Minn. Stat. §504.24, subd. 1 (1992). The landlord has 24 hours after receiving a request from a tenant to return a tenant's personal property (48 hours if stored in another location). This period does not include weekends or holidays. Minn. Stat. §504.24, subd. 2 (1992).
Sixty days after the landlord has either received a notice of abandonment, or it has become reasonably apparent that the unit has been abandoned, the landlord may sell or get rid of the property in whatever way the landlord wishes. The landlord must make a reasonable effort, however, to contact the tenant at least two weeks before the sale of the items, to let the tenant know they are being sold or disposed of. The landlord must do this either by personally giving the tenant a written notice of the sale or by sending the notice by certified mail (return receipt requested) to the tenant's last known address or likely living quarters if that is known by the landlord. The landlord must also post a notice of the sale in a clearly visible place on the premises for at least two weeks before the sale.
The landlord may use a reasonable amount of the money from the sale to pay for the costs of removing and storing the property, back rent, damages caused by the tenant, and other debts the tenant owes the landlord under an agreement. Money earned in excess of the landlord's costs belongs to the tenant, if the tenant has written and asked for it. The landlord may not withhold the tenant's property pending payment of any rent that may be owing. If the tenant has asked for his or her property back before the 60 day waiting period ends, the landlord must give the property back. Minn. Stat. §504.24, subd. 1 (1992).
The landlord must return the tenant's property within 24 hours after the tenant's written demand, or 48 hours (not counting the weekends and holidays) if the landlord has moved the tenant's property somewhere other than the apartment building or house. If the landlord or the landlord's agent does not allow the tenant to reclaim the property after the tenant has written for it, the tenant may sue for a penalty not to exceed $300 plus any damages the tenant suffered plus reasonable attorney's fees. Minn. Stat. §504.24, subd. 2 (1992).
Caretakers and other individuals who exchange their services (instead of money) for rent are now considered tenants. As such, these individuals are entitled to all rights and remedies provided to tenants by law. Minn. Stat. §566.18, subd. 2 (supp. 1993).
Minnesota's Clean Indoor Air Act was amended so that smoking is now prohibited in all common areas within apartment buildings. Minn. Stat. §144.413, subd. 2 (supp. 1994).
Manufactured home owners who rent lots in manufactured home
parks have special rights and responsibilities under Minnesota law.
Minn. Stat. §327C (1992). The Minnesota Attorney General's Office
publishes a brochure detailing these rights and responsibilities. To
receive Manufactured Home Park Tenants: Rights and Duties
contact the Attorney General's Office at (612) 296-3353 (voice), (612)
297-7206 (TTD), or 1-800-657-3787 (voice and TTD) or write to:
Minnesota Attorney General's Office
NCL Tower, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101