Q: We have been dealing with mice and rats in our St. Paul apartment. Our landlord isn’t doing much about it. Whom should I contact about this?

A: Minnesota law requires landlords to keep rental property in repair, fit for the use intended and in compliance with health and safety laws. If you have mice and rats in your apartment, and your landlord isn’t eliminating the problem, then your landlord isn’t complying with the law.

Since you live in St. Paul, call the Department of Safety and Inspections Complaint Office at 651-266-8989, and report that you have rats and mice in your apartment. Animal Control will come and test the rat holes and bait sewer lines in your area. Due to the pests being in your apartment, the city can require your landlord or you to exterminate the pests. The landlord or owner is responsible for exterminating if two or more units are infested, the building’s common areas are infested or the owner didn’t keep the building in a sanitary condition to prevent rodents. You should ask your neighbors if they are having problems with pests in their apartments.

If there is a severe infestation, the city may condemn the building or unit as unfit for human habitation, which would require tenants to evacuate until the infestation is fixed. St. Paul ordinances state that infestations of rats or mice are a nuisance that must be fixed by the responsible party, which is typically the landlord, unless the tenant caused the problem.

You didn’t mention whether you sent your landlord written notice to get rid of the rodents within 14 days. You could send the landlord written notice of the problem. If it isn’t fixed to your satisfaction in two weeks, you could file a rent-escrow action in Ramsey County housing court. You will need to attach a copy of your letter requesting that your landlord fix the infestation, along with photos or any other evidence, and to post any rent that is due at that time with the court.

Rent dispute

Q: I have been renting my townhouse to the same tenants for three years. When they moved in, I collected first month’s rent, prepayment of last month’s rent and a security deposit. Over the course of their tenancy, rent has increased $175 per month. I did not collect the difference in the prepayment of last month’s rent. It was my intention to collect the difference when my renters reached the last month of their tenancy and it became due. My tenants are now refusing to pay the difference on the grounds that the contract states last month’s rent prepaid at the 2015 rate. The contract also states that they agree to pay the current monthly rate through the contract term, which includes last month’s rent. They have paid the increased amount for 11 months. Why would they get a discount the last month? What does the law state?

A: There is no state law regarding prepayment of last month’s rent upfront, and then trying to collect the difference because of a rent increase once the lease terminates. Since there is no state law on the issue, the lease language will determine the outcome. Even though your tenants paid the last month’s rent upfront in 2015, they most likely owe the balance of the rent for the last month since the rent increased over the years and they are required to pay the monthly rate until the contract ends.

However, because the lease doesn’t specifically state that the increase in rent is owed for the last month once the lease terminates, some judges may rule for your tenant. You, being the landlord, would have the burden of proof. It’s probably not worth your time or expense to pursue an action to recover $175. You should discuss the situation with your tenants, explaining to them what the lease terms mean, and that they are required to pay the entire amount that is owed for their last month’s rent. Tell them that you couldn’t predict what their monthly rent would increase to at the time they signed your lease. If your tenants still refuse to pay the $175, then you should request that they pay half that amount. You also should change your lease so that it specifically states that any rent increase that occurs over time is owed for the last month once the lease runs.

 

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 kklein@kleinpa.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.