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Renting: Code violation complicates the eviction process

  • Article by: KELLY KLEIN
  • Renting and the law
  • December 22, 2012 - 2:24 PM

Q I rented out my downstairs area on Oct. 1 to a man who knew I did not have egress windows. He wanted to stay downstairs even though I offered to rent him my upstairs. The renter is now blackmailing me over renting him space that isn't legally up to code. He has not paid rent since Nov. 15 and will not move out. How do I evict him if I cannot afford an attorney?

A A landlord can evict a tenant for any material violation of their lease provision, and a tenant's failure to pay rent is the most common violation. You can file an eviction action in the county where you live. You didn't mention if your renter signed a lease. Either way, you are able to evict him yourself or by hiring an attorney to file the paperwork. If the upstairs unit is still available, you should first try to convince him to move upstairs and start paying rent. If you are unsuccessful, then proceed with an eviction action by filing a summons and complaint with the Housing Court Administrator in the county where you live.

If you live in Hennepin County, the filing fee is $322, payable to the District Court Administrator, and you would file the original complaint on the Public Service Level (PSL) of the Hennepin County Government Center. If you have a written lease with your tenant, attach a copy of the lease to the complaint. Then, file one copy of the complaint for the defendant (your tenant), and file one additional copy for the court. There are simple instructions to follow on the complaint form. You will list the date your tenant signed the lease, or, if there is no lease, then the date your tenant moved into your basement, the address of your property, length of terms of your lease or whether it's month-to-month. Indicate that you've followed the law of Minnesota Statute 504B.181 (listing the name and address of the owner of the property, who collects rent and is responsible for notices and demands, on the building in a conspicuous place), and give your reasons for wanting the tenant evicted, which in your case is for nonpayment of rent. After you've completed the complaint, the clerk prepares a summons. The summons and complaint will then be served on your tenant, and a hearing date will be set. The Housing Court administrative clerks in your county are there to assist you with these forms and answer your questions.

Your tenant may try to argue that since there are no egress windows, he does not need to pay rent, as the property does not meet code. There is no law in Minnesota that specifically says that a tenant is excused from paying rent if the property does not meet code. There are some cases that have found that lack of a rental license prevents a landlord from evicting for nonpayment. Other cases have held that code violations that make the unit uninhabitable or interfere with the tenant's quiet enjoyment of the property can excuse all or a portion of the rent liability. If you can show that the tenant knew about the egress-window issue before he moved in, then you may be able to prevent the tenant from asserting the lack of egress windows as a defense to nonpayment of rent. It is going to be a tricky case. If you really want the unit to be rentable in the future, you can pursue the eviction action and perhaps get the court to help you reach some sort of agreement with the tenant, so that he pays a certain amount for rent up until the time he moves out. That way, you will have a court order preventing him from staying after a certain date, and requiring him to pay 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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