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Renting and the law: When tenants split up, who pays the rent?

  • Article by: KELLY KLEIN
  • July 6, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Q: I own a townhome in Eden Prairie that is leased to a young couple. Both tenants signed the lease, which terminates Aug. 31, and each tenant pays half the rent. Apparently, the couple are having relationship issues, and the boyfriend called to let me know that his girlfriend is moving out. I have heard nothing from her, and she paid her share of the rent for June. The lease states that the monthly rental is $1,450 and does not indicate that the rent amount is to be split between them. Who is obligated for the July and August rent — both of them, or is the remaining tenant obligated for the full amount?

Also, if the full rent is not paid for July and August, can I use the security deposit to cover the past-due rent?

A: Most leases require that the named tenant or tenants are responsible for the rent, whether or not they are living there. You should double-check the language in your lease to ensure that both tenants are named in the lease. If both are named, then they are jointly and severally liable for the rent, which means that they are each individually responsible to pay all the rent, whether the other person pays or not. For example, if the rent is $1,450, and the boyfriend refuses to pay anything, then the girlfriend is legally responsible to cover the rent, whether or not she is living there. If the girlfriend refuses to pay the rent, then the boyfriend is legally responsible.

If you do not receive a full month’s rent, you have some options. First, you can accept and cash the partial rent check, and try to work things out with the tenant to collect full rent. However, if you do accept a partial payment, Minnesota law precludes you from bringing an eviction action in the same month that you accept the partial payment. So, if you accept a partial payment in July, you wouldn’t be able to bring an action requesting eviction for failure to pay all the rent until August. Therefore, before you cash any payments that are not for the full amount of rent, you need to consider whether you want to pursue the tenants later for the money.

If you decide not to cash the check and proceed with an eviction, you should return the check to the tenant by certified mail (after making a copy), then go to the courthouse to begin the action. Some counties permit landlords to combine an eviction action with a conciliation court action. Landlords are then able to obtain a judgment for unpaid rent while they are bringing an eviction action, so make sure to request the combination when you fill out the forms.

Minnesota law permits a landlord to apply the security deposit to any amounts owed for unpaid rent or damage to the unit, so you can apply your tenants’ security deposit to these amounts.

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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