Q: My sister has been living in the same apartment for seven years. She recently was informed that she would have to move because of building-wide renovations. The building has a unit just a few doors down, with the exact floor plan as her current one, so she agreed to take that apartment sight unseen. It was being completely gutted and renovated, so she had no concerns about cleanliness or quality. She moved at her own expense, hiring a moving company rather than asking for help from family and friends.
I stopped in there yesterday, and the odor of cigarette smoke was overwhelming. The smell remained even though the carpet had been removed, the unit had been repainted, and all new appliances had been installed.
When I brought up the awful smell to my sister, she said she figured it would just go away. My sister is being too nice — the smell is not going away.
I stopped in the manager’s office and told them about the smell. They said they will address it, and mentioned repainting. I don’t feel that is sufficient. I asked why she couldn’t just move back to her old apartment when it’s done being renovated. The manager said it was already rented by the smokers who wrecked the apartment she is in now. However, the renovations won’t be completed for four weeks so they haven’t moved in there yet. Why can’t they just move my sister back into her old apartment and tell the smokers to return to their original apartment? Can she demand to be moved or let out of her lease? Do they owe her any moving expenses because of this trouble?
A: Under Minnesota law, the landlord or manager has covenants of habitability in which they promise to keep the premises fit for its intended use. Therefore, your sister’s apartment needs to be in compliance with state and local housing maintenance and health and safety laws. Your sister should not have to live in an apartment that reeks of smoke, and should document the odor as best she can by having others come in so they can act as witnesses, if necessary.
Your sister should contact the manager immediately and explain that she needs to be moved back into her previous apartment once the renovations are done, due to the terrible smoke smell in her new place. The manager should be responsible to move her at management’s expense because she didn’t request the renovations. Once the manager decided to make renovations that would require tenants to move, the manager has a duty to locate and pay for their move to similar housing until the work is done.
Also, make sure your sister gets any agreement in writing regarding her request to be moved back into her old apartment at the manager’s expense. She should also request reimbursement for her first move, and should provide the manager with copies of her receipts and expenses incurred due to the owner’s desire to renovate. Possibly, she can use these expenses as a negotiating tactic to get back into her old unit.
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.