Q: I live in Phoenix, and I was supposed to move to Minnesota in July for a job transfer.
The transfer was canceled at the last minute, which has left me with some challenges in dealing with a Minnesota landlord. I signed a two-year lease on May 28, with a move-in date of July 1. The lease states that, prior to move-in, I must pay a $1,400 deposit and the first month’s rent.
So, on May 28, I paid a $1,400 deposit and an additional $600. I told the landlord she could apply the $600 to the first month’s rent, and that I would pay the balance of $800 when I arrived on July 1.
On June 23, my transfer was changed to another state, so I sent the landlord an e-mail stating I would not be moving in on July 1.
She replied that she would try and find a renter to move in by July 1, but she doubted that would happen. She said she would send me back the $600 right away, but she was going to have to wait and see if she rented the house or not, because if she didn’t, she would be keeping the $1,400 for the July rent.
It’s now the end of July, and the landlord has not given me the $600 back that she promised.
She states that she has not rented the property, and is not sure she will be sending any of my money back, since it is costing her to mow the lawn and to advertise the property.
Do I have legal rights to get any of my money back? I realize that I gave a short notice, but I never even moved in, and it seems unfair that the landlord still gets to keep my $2,000.
A: You signed a lease, which obligated you to pay rent during the lease term, whether or not you lived there. You are currently obligated to pay the full rent for the entire lease term, which is $1,400 per month for the next two years.
In many states, a landlord is obligated to “cover” their losses by renting the property to someone else. Minnesota has not adopted this rule.
Still, most Minnesota courts will require that a landlord show that they made an effort to re-rent the property in any suit to collect the rent in a situation such as yours.
You need to communicate with your landlord and try to work out some sort of deal; otherwise, the landlord can sue you and collect much more than what you have paid. Your landlord has no legal obligation to return any of the money you previously sent unless you can work out an arrangement with her to return some of it. Make sure you get everything in writing in case there is a lawsuit later on.
You should talk with a tax professional about these expenses and any other items you might have to pay on this unit. Costs incurred in a work-related move are often tax-deductible, so you should make sure you explore this avenue to see if you can get any relief.
In the end, the employer may be responsible for the payment of any expenses you incurred related to a job transfer that was changed at the last minute.
If you end up on the hook for a significant amount of money, you might want to talk to an employment attorney about recovering this money from your employer.
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.