Q I am a smaller landlord dealing with a tenant who moved into one of my apartments in March. Since moving in, he has bounced one move-in check, paid late in April and May, and now the check he just gave me for June rent also has bounced. I have posted three notices demanding payment. He's not returning my phone calls, but he finally responded to the third notice, once we said we would move to evict him. He said he is a soldier coming off active duty and that there are laws that protect soldiers from being evicted, especially since his rent is under $2,000 a month. Can you give me any information regarding this issue?
A Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, soldiers serving on active duty in the military have some protection from evictions and foreclosures. Absent a court order, a landlord may not evict a servicemember, or the dependents of a servicemember, from a residential lease when the monthly rent is at or below $2,975.54 for 2011 (the state uses a formula to calculate the rent ceiling). In Minnesota, a landlord must obtain a court order to evict any tenant who is living on the property and refuses to leave.
If a servicemember's ability to pay the rent is materially affected by military service, the court must grant a request for a stay of the action for 90 days, unless equity requires a shorter or longer stay, or adjust the obligation under the lease to protect the interests of the landlord and tenant. The court can provide this relief on its own, without the servicemember making the request.
You have several options as a landlord. You cannot evict a soldier unless you bring an eviction action and get a court order. However, if you bring an eviction action against a servicemember, the court has the option to stay those proceedings or adjust the terms of the lease. By taking the soldier to court, you may get a resolution, but it may not be the one you want. You should talk to your tenant again, and tell him that you can evict him with a court order, so he should try and work out some form of payment arrangement with you. Otherwise, even though your tenant is a soldier, the court may enforce a payment arrangement.
No forwarding address
Q Renters moved out of my property in April. When they sent me their notice to leave, I told them I needed a forwarding address. Right before they moved out, I repeated that I needed a forwarding address. But they never provided one. I also left a message on their cellphone and have not heard back regarding their new address. I still have their damage deposit. Do I need to continue to try and contact them, or should I wait for them to contact me?
A Under Minnesota law, landlords must send a letter within three weeks after the tenancy ends, withholding only an amount from the security deposit that is reasonably necessary to restore the place to its condition at the time they began renting, excluding ordinary wear and tear, and any amounts owed for payment of rent or any other agreement between the parties. The letter should be sent by first-class mail, postage prepaid, in an envelope with your return address, to the last known mailing address or delivery instructions your tenants provided.
If you've tried to send the letter to their last known address (which is the address they had with you), and it gets returned to you instead of forwarded to their new address, then you have met the statutory requirements. Save the returned mail in the envelope, in case you need it to prove that you sent the letter. Since you didn't get a forwarding address from them, and you've tried to mail to the address they had with you, there is nothing more you need to do.
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, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.