Q Since renting out my townhouse, I've had numerous problems with the tenants, the first property manager and now the second property-management company. The tenants have been taken to court twice for not paying rent, but both times were allowed to stay. The first property manager didn't inform me of all my rights concerning the first eviction hearing. At the second hearing, the tenants brought a certified check for the rent and late fees, so the court allowed them to stay.
The tenants don't pay for utilities, so I changed the bills to their name, and believe they may soon be disconnected. They painted bright colors and popcorn ceilings without getting my permission. I believe they have two additional people living there, but the management company says they cannot look in the closets for extra clothing because it's illegal. Is this true? I also believe the tenants have a dog, which wasn't in the lease.
I am frustrated not only by the tenants but also the property managers. Why can't an eviction be ordered?
A A landlord has the right to pursue an eviction when he or she believes that the tenants have violated the lease, which includes nonpayment of rent. However, Minnesota law contains significant protections for tenants. If a landlord tries to evict for nonpayment, the tenants have the right to remain in the property if they pay the rent and late fees at that hearing. It is hard to tell from your question whether the first eviction was solely for nonpayment, but since the tenant brought the rent to the second hearing, they had the right to stay on the property after that hearing.
If the property manager failed to inform you of your rights, that is not the tenants' fault, and your complaint is with that manager. If you think you have a claim, you should contact an attorney.
If the utilities are in the tenants' names, and the lease requires them to pay utilities, then you may be in the clear. However, if the lease is unclear, or if they never agreed to have the utility bills in their names, they may have an argument that you are responsible for those utilities, and you may be responsible for a wrongful eviction if those utilities are terminated.
If the lease requires tenants to get your permission to make changes to the property and they made significant changes without obtaining permission, then they may be in violation of the lease. If they demonstrate that the property needed painting and the ceiling needed repair, and that they asked to paint and never received a reply, or if the lease is unclear as to whether they need permission, then this is probably not enough to evict.
If your lease prohibits pets, then this may be a basis to evict. But if the lease is unclear, or if the dog is a service animal, then the tenant may have the right to keep the pet. The law requires landlords to reasonably accommodate service animals. The best practice would be to have your current property manager notify the tenants that the lease prohibits pets (if the lease does actually prohibit pets) and that if the pet is not removed by a certain date, then you will proceed with an eviction. That gives the tenant notice of your intentions, and also an opportunity to present facts as to whether or not the dog is providing a service.
If the lease prohibits others from living on the property, and has clear definitions as to what living on the property entails, then unnamed tenants would be considered a lease violation. State law allows a landlord to enter the property after giving reasonable notice, so long as the landlord has a business purpose. Inspecting the property to see if the tenant is violating the lease is considered a business purpose, so you or the property manager would have the right to conduct an inspection. I am not aware of any law that would prohibit you from looking in the closets. But unless you knew whose clothes belonged to who, I am not sure what it would prove. Instead, send the tenant a notice indicating that you believe others are living there and, if so, they need to move out or you will pursue eviction. Then, have someone keep track of the cars that are there in the evening and the morning. If there are extra cars, that is often enough for a court.
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.