Q I have rental property in Minnesota, but I live out of state most of the year. I allowed a tenant to move into my house with only half of the first month's rent, because he needed a few more days to get the extra money together.
I assumed that the tenant would pay me the remainder of the rent, but he kept pushing out the day to pay what he owes. I mentioned that if he doesn't pay me soon, I would have to evict him.
He threatened to "play hardball" if it comes to that and said he'd call a housing inspector to report me. He has minor grievances about the place, but nothing that makes it uninhabitable, and none that he's brought up to me in writing.
What should I do?
A If your tenant doesn't pay all outstanding rent, you should consider an eviction action.
First, you need to know that acceptance of a partial payment of rent might block you from filing an eviction action in the month you have accepted the partial payment. So, you should make sure your tenant knows that you need all outstanding rent money, or you are going to proceed with the eviction action.
If he does give you a partial payment, you might need to return it. If you do return it, make sure that you save copies of any checks or money orders so you can document what you received, and you should also consider sending the money back by certified mail.
Second, if there are outstanding repair issues, you might want to consider having them fixed if they go to the issue of habitability. If they are minor issues, such as a spot on the carpet, he probably doesn't have a right to withhold rent. But if they are major issues, such as no heat or the oven doesn't work, the court will most likely require that they be fixed.
If you do evict, consider retaining an attorney in Minnesota. The bar association (612-752-6666) can provide you with a list of names and telephone numbers of attorneys who practice in this area.
Your attorney can file the paperwork for an eviction action in the county where your property is located. Then, if your tenant shows up to court and pays the remaining rent, plus any other fees owed, the court will allow the tenant to stay on.
If the tenant doesn't have the money he owes you by the court date, your attorney can either work out an agreement giving the tenant additional time or request a writ from the court, requiring that the tenant vacate the property. If the writ issues, it is served by the sheriff. If you reach that point, you should discuss with your attorney your responsibility for any property left on the premises by the tenant.
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.