Q I am writing in regard to an apartment complex owner who will NOT pay for or handle a bedbug infestation in the buildings. He says that it is the tenants' responsibility to have the heat treatments done to their own apartments, regardless of who brought the bugs into his buildings. He says that the tenants have to have the problem paid for and handled within four business days or he will start evictions against them.
This seems to be against Minnesota law, but he says it is not, and that he is not responsible. He cannot prove that people brought bugs in and he doesn't want to handle this. What should I do now?
A Minnesota law states that it is the landlord's duty to keep the unit in reasonable repair, except when the disrepair has been caused by the willful, malicious or irresponsible conduct of the tenant or a person under the direction or control of the tenant, such as a friend or visitor. This statute cannot be waived by the tenant, and even if the tenant signs something agreeing to undertake repairs, such an agreement is unenforceable against the tenant.
Some cities, such as Minneapolis, have ordinances that require landlords to take responsibility for exterminating insects, rodents, vermin or other pests on the property. Most cities have a licensing and inspection scheme, which requires that landlords maintain their units. You should call the city to see if it has a housing inspection unit that can come and inspect your unit and educate the landlord about his responsibilities under the lease.
If there is no housing inspection unit, then you should consider filing a rent escrow action, asking the court to hold your rent until the landlord resolves the problem. Before filing a rent escrow action, you need to give your landlord at least 14 days written notice of the problem. If you have already sent an e-mail or a letter complaining about the problem, or if your landlord has written you acknowledging your complaint, and that was more than 14 days ago, then you can proceed with a rent escrow action. Simply go to the courthouse in the city where you live; there are forms there that you can fill out to begin the process.
Another option is to do nothing and await the landlord's decision to bring an eviction action. If the landlord does so, you should defend yourself by saying that the landlord is trying to get you to maintain the property in violation of Minnesota law and in violation of your city ordinance, if there is one in your city. You should also request that the eviction be dismissed and expunged.
Finally, one big problem with having different tenants in different units handling the pest abatement is that they will likely hire several companies that may or may not end up eradicating the pests. In addition, some tenants may refuse to pay for the service, so you could be left with the bugs in some units and not in others.
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 email@example.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.