Q: My daughter is renting an off-campus house near the University of Minnesota. Her roommate is currently locking my daughter out of their rental home and refusing to unlock the door. I believe it’s an unsafe, volatile situation, from what my daughter has told me. Both my daughter and her roommate are listed as tenants on the lease, and both are students at the University of Minnesota. What should my daughter do?
A: In all Minnesota leases, the law implies that tenants have the right to habitability and quiet enjoyment of their rental home or apartment. However, these covenants or promises of habitability have been applied more often by courts with regard to a landlord-tenant situation and not as much between two tenants.
In your daughter’s situation, there is a violation of her right to enjoy her rental home in peace without disturbance and, therefore, she has several options available to her. Your daughter should first contact her landlord immediately and let the landlord know that her roommate is locking her out of their rental home. Since your daughter’s roommate isn’t changing the locks on your daughter but simply refusing to unlock or unbolt the door, your daughter’s landlord should be able to resolve your daughter’s problem with her roommate. Since both your daughter and her roommate are on the lease, the landlord will contact your daughter’s roommate and let her know there will be consequences for her actions, which may include eviction, if she doesn’t stop locking your daughter out.
If circumstances don’t change once your daughter’s landlord gets involved, then your daughter may want to ask for early termination of her lease. In many Minnesota leases, there is a buyout provision or clause allowing a tenant to terminate or break the lease early by paying one or two months of rent. If this buyout provision exists in her lease, your daughter can exercise her right to terminate the lease early. If a buyout clause doesn’t exist in her lease, and your daughter wants to move, she should request an early termination of her lease. Your daughter’s landlord will most likely offer her the opportunity to terminate the lease early, since it’s in the landlord’s best interest to resolve this issue quickly or lose rent money. Either your daughter or her roommate could assume the entire lease until a new roommate is found.
Another option is to contact the University of Minnesota Student Legal Services at 612-624-1001. This office handles housing issues for students living off campus, at no charge or for a nominal fee. However, the office may have a conflict of interest, since both students are enrolled in the University of Minnesota. Your daughter, along with her roommate and their landlord, can decide together which tenant wants to terminate the lease early and find another place to live, and which tenant wants to take over the lease until a suitable roommate can be found. Your daughter could also consider filing a harassment restraining order (“HRO”) against her roommate so that there is a record of the incident in order to prevent her roommate from continuing this behavior in the future. Your daughter would go to the Hennepin County Courthouse to file the HRO, and there will be court employees there to assist her with the paperwork.
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.