Q: We signed a lease to rent a single-family home in Minneapolis. The rental contract includes a section about us doing some maintenance work. However, it includes nothing about getting a discount on our rent for performing this service. Our landlord lives in California, but there is a property manager who has been left in charge. He sent us a curt message stating that we are required to pull weeds in the alley during the spring, summer and fall, and that we neglected to do so last summer so he was required to do the weeding. The weeding of the alley was never addressed until now.
We were a little put off because we work in the yard, and no one complained about the status of the alley before. All I want is confirmation from a credible source that we are correct. Can the owner or property manager make us do work that was never agreed upon without giving us compensation for it?
A: Under Minnesota law, the owner or property manager may require tenants to perform specific repairs or maintenance around the property, but only if there is an agreement in writing and the agreement is supported by adequate consideration.
There is an organization called HOMELine that provides legal services to tenants throughout Minnesota. HOMELine has published a book, "How to Be the Smartest Renter on Your Block," that answers your question. It states, "A landlord can require a tenant to take care of maintenance (snow-shoveling and lawn-mowing are the most common chores), but the landlord must pay the tenant to do this work." (p. 48) This payment must be adequate or fair, and the agreement to perform the maintenance must be in writing. You can obtain this book from HOMELine's website at https://homelinemn.org.
You have a written agreement to perform some maintenance because it is in the lease that you signed. However, if there is no mention of payment, reduced rent or some other type of consideration for the work performed, the agreement to perform the work is not binding. If the landlord fails to write down the amount of the discount or consideration for performing maintenance, then the tenant can stop performing the work or sue the landlord for past-due wages after the tenant moves out.
Who's minding the sink?
Q: I have a tenant who overflowed a bathroom sink a few months ago. He plugged the sink, then turned on the faucet to get water for his cat and walked away to take a telephone call. The sink does not have an overflow drain, which might have prevented the overflow. The water caused $1,500 damage to the apartment below, which he has agreed to pay.
Recently there was another overflow situation caused by the same tenant but involving much less water. The tenant is now demanding that I replace his sink with one that has an overflow drain. I have not had this problem with other tenants, and I feel it is his responsibility to stay near the sink when he is running water. I also believe he should remove the plug from the sink when getting water for his cat.
The tenant is hard of hearing, so I'm guessing his hearing problem contributed to the first overflow problem, because he may not have been able to hear the water splashing onto the floor. I don't appreciate demands being made when the existing fixture is in good condition. This is just one of several situations with this tenant. How should I respond to his request?
A: Under Minnesota law, the landlord or owner promises to keep the premises and all common areas in reasonable repair during the term of the lease, 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. It's great that your tenant was able to cover the cost of the water-overflow damages, since it was his fault.
I cannot find anything in the Minnesota Plumbing Code that specifically requires an overflow drain in a bathroom sink. Whether the current plumbing code would apply to you depends on the date your property was built. You should consult a lawyer with your specific information to see if you are required to have an overflow drain, but from what I can determine, you are not required by law to have an overflow drain or to replace your tenant's sink with one equipped with an overflow drain.
You should write your tenant a letter stating that you won't be replacing the sink because it is in good condition and does not require any repairs or replacement. In this letter, you should also state that you are hopeful that your tenant will be more careful in the future and will not leave the water running in the bathroom or any other sink in the apartment.
On the other hand, you may want to consider an overflow drain, since not every tenant has the funds to cover a $1,500 water-damage bill, and you may be out money if you fail to obtain reimbursement from any future incidents.
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.