Q: My daughter is a junior at the University of Minnesota and is renting a house with three other girls. The problem they are running into is that they have to deal with a property-management person when any maintenance issues arise. However, the property manager is not very reliable. The house continues to have sewer-backup issues. Currently, they have sewage backup in their basement, where the washer and dryer are located, and also in a bathroom. They have tried for several days to reach the property manager, with no luck. Today, they tried again, and his phone has a recorded message from the phone carrier stating that this person is no longer accepting calls. The girls have no contact information for the property owner, only an address to mail their rental payment. What steps can they take to get the sewer backup issue taken care of?
A: Your daughter and her roommates have several options. The first thing they should do is contact the University of Minnesota Student Legal Service at 612-624-1001, which is located at 160 West Bank Skyway in Minneapolis. Landlords are more responsive when they are contacted by the university administration, since they have a strong interest in maintaining a good relationship with the university. I understand the property manager's recorder is no longer accepting calls. However, the university may know the owner and have a number for him or her, or might be able to send the owner a letter. Your daughter has a great resource in the university's legal services, so contacting that office should be her first step.
Tenants who don't have a legal service to contact regarding their rental problems should call the city housing inspector in Minneapolis or whatever city they reside in. A third option is to file a rent-escrow action by placing the rent, if any is due, with the court until the problem is fixed. Under Minnesota law, in order to file a rent-escrow action, a tenant must first notify the landlord in writing of the problem. The notice must be delivered personally or sent to the address where rent is normally paid. The owner or landlord has 14 days to make the necessary repairs. If the problem isn't corrected after 14 days, the tenants can then go to the courthouse in the county where they live, with a copy of the letter they sent, and fill out the required forms. If any rent is due at that time, the tenants place it with the court administrator. Once an owner is no longer receiving rental income, house repairs seem to get taken care of quickly.
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.