Q: My 30-year-old son is a paraplegic and rents a third-floor studio apartment in Burnsville. Five days ago, while he was in his apartment, the building elevator broke. He cannot get to work, to the store or out of the building in the event of fire.
This is the second time this year that the elevator has gone out. The first time, management moved my son to another apartment in a different building. This time, there doesn’t seem to be much urgency about getting the elevator repaired and working. What is my son’s recourse with this company?
A: Under Minnesota law, landlords are required to keep the property in reasonable repair, fit for the use intended and in compliance with all safety and health codes. These covenants of habitability (or promises the landlord is required by law to make) cannot be waived or modified by either party. The covenants apply to all repairs unless they are caused by the irresponsible, willful or malicious conduct of the tenant.
Your son’s apartment is not fit for the use intended when the elevator is broken because he is stranded and cannot leave the building for work, to attend events or get groceries. The landlord needs to make accommodations immediately by either fixing the elevator or moving your son to another apartment that has access to an elevator or ramp so that he can leave the building.
Under Minnesota law, your son could pursue a tenant remedies action in the housing court in the county where he lives. Since this issue needs to be resolved quickly, your son may want to utilize a provision in the tenant remedies statutes that allows for an emergency involving the loss of “essential services or facilities that the landlord is responsible for providing.” Your son can provide the landlord written notice that he intends to seek emergency relief if the issue is not resolved. If your son wants to proceed on an emergency basis, then he can do so 24 hours after providing the notice. If not, then he can wait 14 days and file a regular tenant remedies action.
Minnesota and federal law also prohibit a landlord from discriminating against a person with a disability. Under these laws, a person with a disability has a right to request a reasonable accommodation, and landlords must make necessary and reasonable changes, or they are in violation of the law. The landlord must allow for the accommodation unless it creates an undue hardship financially or administratively. Since the landlord was able to move your son to another apartment building the last time the elevator broke, there seem to be a few options open for your son to pursue. If your son moves to an apartment on the first floor with a ramp or an entryway without steps, or moves to another building, make sure he gets any new lease or agreement in writing and signed by both parties.
There are also numerous agencies that can assist your son, including HOMELine at 612-728-5767, which provides assistance to tenants regardless of income, or Legal Assistance of Dakota County at 952-431-3200.
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, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.