Q My parents lived in the same home for 11 years. After my father died four years ago, my mom and brother stayed in the unit but struggled with the $1,000-a-month rent. Eventually, they were evicted.
The unit has since been totally remodeled, and my family has received a bill for $23,000 in damages. It sounds to me as if the landlord is trying to have my family pay for the remodeling, which is in addition to the $1,000 damage deposit that was kept. One of the repairs my mom and brother are being charged for is new kitchen flooring, which was old and cracked when they moved in.
What is the legal limit my family can be charged?
A A landlord can keep the security deposit to cover past rent owed or to restore the apartment to its condition at the time your mother moved in, excluding ordinary wear and tear, according to state law.
There is no limit on how much a landlord can charge a tenant to restore the apartment. But a bill of $23,000 on a $1,000-a-month rental unit seems excessive.
You didn't mention if your mom and brother owed past rent, because the landlord might be charging them for rent owed. If the $23,000 bill doesn't cover past rent and instead reimburses the owner for a new kitchen floor and remodeling, your mom and brother are most likely not responsible. After 11 years of living in the same unit, there will be a reasonable amount of wear and tear on a floor. Tenants are not held responsible for replacing the flooring unless they damaged or destroyed it.
In any action concerning the deposit, the burden of proving the reason for withholding all or any portion of it is on the landlord. Your landlord needed to send your mom and brother a letter within 21 days detailing the necessary repairs their damage deposit was being used for and other charges that were being assessed against them.
Your mom and brother can bring an action in conciliation court to recover the security deposit. They could also contact HOME Line at 612-728-5767 in the metro area or 1-866-866-3546 outside the metro area for assistance.Getting out of lease
Q We're being relocated from Minnesota to Missouri. Our lease gives relocation consideration only for military transfers. Do you know of any other options?
A A tenant doesn't have a legal right to get out of a lease even if the tenant builds or buys a home, changes jobs and has to move, or has health problems that require relocation. An exception is if the lease contains a provision allowing a tenant to break the lease or the landlord agrees to release the tenant from the terms of the lease. Most leases also have a military exception.
Since you aren't being transferred for military reasons and your lease has no other exceptions, you have one other option: You can request that your landlord terminate your lease early in exchange for a couple months' worth of rent.
Many landlords will agree to early termination of a lease, especially if their building is desirable. If your landlord does agree to terminate the lease, make sure you get something in writing confirming any such agreement and keep a copy of it in case the lease termination is reported on your credit history.
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.