Renting and the Law: House rented by students has bats in the attic

  • Article by: KELLY KLEIN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2013 - 2:56 PM

Q: My son, a college student in Minnesota, is renting an off-campus house with his buddies. They have bats in the attic. So far, four bats have entered the house. My son and his buddies contacted their landlord, and the response was: “People have bats in their houses.” What recourse, if any, do these kids have?

A: You didn’t mention which college your son and his friends are attending. If they are at the University of Minnesota, they should contact Legal Services at 612-624-1001. Otherwise, student services at other Minnesota colleges can help them with this problem.

Landlords who rent to students want to continue a relationship with the college, and are generally very responsive to contact by the administration. If your son and his friends cannot get any help from their school, then they can contact the city housing inspector for the city where they live. If there is no housing inspector, then they can file a rent escrow action, requesting that their rent be held by the court until the problem is remedied.

In order to pursue a rent escrow action, a tenant must first notify the landlord in writing of the problem and give their landlord 14 days to make appropriate repairs. If the problem isn’t corrected after 14 days, they can go to the courthouse in the county where the property is located with a copy of the letter, and obtain the necessary forms.

One word of caution: If they file a rent escrow action, make sure they understand that they have to keep posting their rent with the court in a timely manner; otherwise the action will be dismissed.

Follow terms of lease

Q: I have rented an apartment in Cottage Grove for a year, and recently my lease renewed for another year. I was presented with a choice between a one-year term, a nine-month term or a month-to-month term. I chose the one-year term, believing this to be my best option. Since that time, I’ve been looking at homes for sale. If I buy one, can I get out of my one-year lease without giving a two-months notice and without paying an additional 50 percent of the amount owed for the remaining months? It just doesn’t seem right that I have to be locked in this lease for a year if I want to buy a house. In addition, the lease says if I move out during December, January or February, the owner can keep my security deposit. Can the landlord do this?

A: If you agreed to a one-year lease, then you have to live up to your end, unless there is some specific buyout provision. There is no law that allows tenants to terminate the lease simply because they bought a house. Since it does not sound like there is such a provision, your only other option is to contact your landlord and negotiate to see if you can buy your way out of the lease. If it’s a desirable building, you may not have a problem negotiating a buyout. Make sure to get any agreement regarding a buyout in writing.

There is nothing under Minnesota law that permits a landlord to keep the damage deposit simply because the tenant moves during December, January or February. In fact, Minnesota law allows the landlord to apply the deposit only to funds owed to the landlord for rent, late fees or other such amounts and for damage to the unit, ordinary wear and tear excepted. That said, if your lease extends beyond those winter months and you move during those months, then you will owe your landlord additional rent for the remaining months, and your landlord will be able to apply your security deposit to that outstanding rent.

 

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, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.

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