Q: In July, I received an offer to renew my one-year apartment lease that expires on Aug. 31. Due to some possible changes in my life, I have chosen to wait.
Apparently eager to lock me in, my landlord sent me a notice on July 30 stating that she “cannot accept my August rent unless I sign a new lease.” I read my lease carefully, and there is no requirement that I sign a new lease, or no mention of a penalty if I don’t sign a new lease. It merely states that if neither party gives a 60-day notice before the one year to end the rental relationship, and no new lease is signed, the agreement defaults to a “three-month to three-month.” What does that mean?
Also, how do I determine whether her written demand is unlawful, and if so, what are my options to pursue the matter? This isn’t the first time she’s tried to strong-arm me, and I fear she’s doing it to other tenants.
A: Lease language covering notification upon expiration or termination generally prevails, unless it violates the law. In your case, it looks like the lease will expire at the end of August, and if neither party gives notice, then the lease essentially becomes a month-to-month lease with a notice period of some duration. Your landlord cannot state that she will not accept your rent unless you sign a new lease. She can, however, give you notice and require that you move, which may end up being sooner than you want to leave.
As to the applicable notice period, Minnesota law prohibits the automatic renewal of leases for a period of two months or more, unless the landlord follows the statutory specific notice procedure, which it doesn’t sound like your landlord followed. Many courts say a 60-day or two-month notice requirement violates this statute, and I think that most courts would find the three-month to three-month notice provision in your lease a violation of this statute. So, you are probably left dealing with a month-to-month lease and a 30-day or one-month notice period (a 30-day or monthlong notice period requires that notice be given before the last day of the month preceding, so notice to be out at the end of August must be given on or before July 31, even though August is 31 days long). However, if you tell your landlord that the three-month notice provision is unenforceable, it doesn’t always end things. Your landlord may agree and give you a month’s notice, forcing you to move at the end of September. In addition, if you give a month’s notice and move, your landlord may sue to collect rent for the other two months that she believes the lease entitles her to receive. The best thing would be to talk to your landlord and work out a notice period that both of you can live with, and then have that discussion confirmed in writing.
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.