Q: I am a landlord, and my last tenants violated their lease by smuggling five large dogs into the apartment. They moved out at the end of last month, and now the unit smells strongly of dog urine. Their damage deposit is due to them in three weeks. I'm going to have to replace my hardwood floors and carpet because of the damage caused by the dogs. Therefore, the tenants won't be getting their deposit back and will likely be owing me money since the hardwood floors and carpet were only six years old when they moved in. I won't be able to rent my place until I get this horrid ammonia odor out, and nobody reputable will be able to replace my floors until the middle of next month. Instead of sending them their damage deposit, am I required to send them an estimate of what they owe me within three weeks?

A: Minnesota law states that you can withhold amounts necessary to return the unit to its original condition, ordinary wear and tear excepted. Obviously, if there are stains on the carpet and stains on the floor, you will need to document those with photographs.

There may be a question as to whether or not the hardwood floors need to be replaced, as opposed to being sanded and refinished, so you will want to make sure that you have a professional look at them and give you an opinion as to the best course of action.

If you want to put in new hardwood floors, and they do not need to be replaced as a result of the tenant's damage, then you cannot charge the tenant for them. You need to send only an estimate for the cost of repairs within 21 days, since often the work cannot be completed in that time frame. However, you cannot charge them for the estimate and then decide not to get the work done and keep their money. If you do not do the work, then you should refund any money you are holding related to items you decide not to pursue.

Landlord taking advantage?

Q: My wife and I just moved out of a townhouse in Blaine, and our landlord is not only keeping our entire security deposit, but stating that we owe him almost $700. He has indicated he will damage our credit if we don't pay him. Other than a stain in the carpet, we left the townhouse in great condition. Our lease indicates that $150 can be withheld from the security deposit because of the stain. We lived in the townhouse for approximately four years and paid our rent on time every month. We feel we're being taken advantage of. Can you tell us what our rights are concerning the return of our security deposit?

A: State law allows a landlord to withhold from the security deposit only funds owed by the tenant to the landlord or as necessary to return the property to the same condition at the time the unit was rented, excluding ordinary wear and tear.

Your only real option to collect amounts that are in dispute is to bring an action against your landlord. Minnesota has a small claims, or conciliation, court that is set up to hear claims such as yours. You should go to the courthouse in the county where you lived, and get the necessary forms. If you have any evidence, such as pictures or video, that show the unit when you moved in, you should bring them to the hearing. If anyone helped you move in, you should bring them as witnesses.

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.