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Renting and the law: Cat allergies lead to questions about lease

  • Article by: KELLY KLEIN
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • March 31, 2012 - 2:32 PM

Q I'm about to file paperwork in conciliation court to recover money from my previous tenant. He wanted out of the lease early, and once I found new tenants I released him from the lease.

I told him that he would be responsible for my relisting fees. He then stopped payment on the last month's rent, saying that because the security deposit was the same as one month's rent, I wasn't out any rent money. He also said asking him to pay for relisting fees was unfair.

He asked to terminate his lease early because a cat lived in the townhouse previously and his allergies were bothering him. I can't find any information saying I was required to disclose previous animals in the townhouse, and I'm afraid I might be missing something in the law.

Did I do something wrong, or should I just cut my losses and not go to conciliation court?

A There's no law that says a landlord needs to disclose to tenants that there were animals on the property. If this were a big deal for the tenant, he should have told you that he had allergies when the leasing relationship was being formed.

However, if the allergies were serious enough to rise to the level of a disability, then it would likely be necessary for you to reasonably accommodate the tenant by doing something to resolve his health issue. Letting him out of the lease seems as if it would resolve the issue, so you probably met any duty you had to accommodate the disability.

Because your tenant seems to be pulling other tricks, I'm not so sure I believe this is a real issue for him. But it's a much better practice to try to accommodate disabilities than force the tenant to prove them.

As far as the last month's rent, Minnesota Statute 504B.178, Subd. 8, prohibits a tenant from withholding the last month's rent on the condition that the security deposit serve as last month's rent. If you serve the tenant with a written demand and notice of this subdivision, you are eligible to collect as a penalty any amounts withheld from the deposit to return the premises to the condition at the time the unit was rented.

If you let a tenant out of a lease early, it's quite common to request relisting fees, because this is an expense you wouldn't have had to incur if the tenant had stayed in the unit. Any such agreement should be in writing, but any written communication from you setting forth the agreement would probably be sufficient evidence that he received your proposal and acted on it by moving.

If there's damage to the unit, make sure to document it with pictures and witness testimony, and bring any paperwork relating to repairs to the hearing.

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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