Renting and the law: Student's moldy bedroom is uninhabitable

  • Article by: KELLY KLEIN
  • Updated: August 2, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Q: My daughter, a senior at the University of Minnesota, moved into a two-bedroom basement apartment in southeast Minneapolis. When she moved in, we noticed mold in the corner and a damp smell, and notified the landlord. I later called the landlord about the mold, along with a few other issues that were never fixed. I ended up just painting Kilz in the corner to cover up the black stain. My daughter has had other issues that have never been resolved.

With all the rain during the recent weeks, my daughter’s bedroom and part of the hallway are completely soaked, and the mold is back. The apartment smells wet and moldy. My daughter’s desk and personal belongings were all ruined. Therefore, we moved her out this past weekend. The landlord finally got back to her, and said he will just clean the carpet. This apartment is unfit to live in, due to the mold. The wallboard is soaked, and the studs behind them must also be black with mold.

Do I call the city inspector and report the landlord for not fixing or responding to her request for repairs within the 14-day reriod? The roommate’s bedroom is not affected, and she says she can deal with the smell. Do we work with the city for rent escrow? My daughter only has two months left on her lease, and the landlord holds her damage deposit as well. We need to do something soon, since the landlord indicated he would be cleaning the wet carpets early next week.

A: Since your daughter has two months left on her lease, and you would like to get her security deposit returned, I would try to negotiate with the landlord before filing a rent-escrow action. I would write the landlord a letter indicating that your daughter moved out two months early, due to the mold situation, and that it is unsafe for her to sleep there. I would state in the letter that since the repairs weren’t made after a few 14-day-notice letters were sent, you would like the landlord to waive the last two months’ rent on her lease and return her entire security deposit. That way you can both avoid a rent-escrow action.

If the landlord agrees, get the new agreement in writing and signed by both parties. Under Minnesota law, if the landlord doesn’t agree to your resolution, after failing to make repairs to your satisfaction within 14 days, then you need to file a rent-escrow action. You can fill out the paperwork at the county office where the apartment is located.

You can call the city inspector, but given the tight timeline you may want to proceed with the rent-escrow action instead. The clerk at the county will help you complete the paperwork, but you should bring copies of all the letters you sent and pictures, if you have any, to attach to the affidavit. Once you’re in front of a judge you can request a refund of your rent and security deposit, based on the mold and no action taken by the landlord to repair it. You should try to get some pictures of the mold and damage while the roommate you know is still renting there and can get entry into the place.

Another option is to contact the University of Minnesota Legal Services at 612-624-1001 for assistance. Landlords want to keep renting to university students, and advertising their properties on campus. Once a landlord or owner gets a phone call from a representative of the university, it’s amazing how fast repairs or refunds typically are made.

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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