Q: I have gone back and forth with my previous landlord, who refuses to return my damage deposit. My roommate and I moved out of our rental house last June, and provided our forwarding addresses. Our landlord never sent the deposit and failed to send a letter stating why he was keeping it. We reached out to our landlord multiple times, with no response. Finally, he contacted us with a scan of the letters he supposedly sent, dated as if he had sent them on time. He is stating that damages exceed our security deposit. However, he never provided any proof of damages until six months later, when he sent an invoice for the exact amount of our two damage deposits. We never had a walk-through before moving in or after moving out. I was considering small claims court, but it seems like a hassle. I am also concerned he will attempt to use damage from other tenants, before or after our time in the house, as proof for not returning our security deposit. Do you have any recommendations on how to move forward?

 

A: Minnesota law states that every landlord needs to provide a letter within 21 days, once the tenancy has ended, explaining why the landlord is keeping some of the deposit and returning the remainder, or keeping the entire security deposit. The penalty for landlords who miss the 21-day deadline is harsh. The tenant can sue for twice the amount of the original deposit, plus interest and an additional $500 withholding penalty. The penalty may explain why your landlord may be falsifying documents. If you want to avoid taking your landlord to small claims court, but you believe the damages your landlord listed are not accurate, you should draft a demand letter asking for the return of your deposit. You can access the format for a demand letter from HomeLine, which is a tenants’ rights organization that provides free or very low cost legal services to Minnesota tenants. HomeLine’s phone number is 612-728-5767, and its website is at homelinemn.org/form-letters/security-deposits/. The demand letter gives your landlord a certain number of days to respond. If the landlord fails to comply with your request, then you should contact HomeLine to discuss other options. If you do end up taking your landlord to court, make sure to bring with you any photos or other proof of the home’s condition when you moved in and out, along with copies of your e-mails and letters between you and your landlord.

Service animals vs. pets

Q: I have rented the same apartment for two years. When I signed my lease, I had no problem with the building’s no-pets policy because I don’t have a pet. I recently started dating someone who has a service dog. I took the paperwork over and was told it doesn’t matter. My landlord said since my boyfriend is not on the lease, the dog cannot be there. I don’t think this is legal. Do I have any legal recourse?

 

A: Contact your landlord and let him know that under the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, a landlord must allow a tenant’s guest’s service animal anywhere on the property that tenants and guests are normally allowed to go. Your landlord’s no-pets policy does not apply to service animals. Your landlord cannot limit the size or breed of a service animal. Under this law, your landlord cannot charge you a pet deposit for your guest’s service animal, but may require you to pay for damages caused by the service animal, just as all tenants are required to pay for damages beyond ordinary wear and tear. If a service animal is out of control and posing a threat to others, and your guest does not take effective action to control it, then that animal may be excluded by your landlord.

 

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.