Q We have befriended some international students at the University of Minnesota. They have rented a house with a one-year lease that will expire Sept. 1. They returned to their home countries for the summer, and their landlord allowed them to sublet the house. He requested that they clean the home and leave all rooms unlocked so that he can have access to show prospective renters the unit. All the tenants agreed to these terms. The landlord said that the house wasn't cleaned to his satisfaction, so he hired a cleaning crew and charged the students twice for the professional cleaning service. We think that they have been taken advantage of. We don't believe the landlord should be charging them until their lease has terminated, much less charging them twice. What is your opinion?
A First, when a house is sublet, there should be a signed agreement between the tenants and the sub-tenants regarding responsibility to pay for rent and any damages or other charges. In addition, you say that the landlord signed off on the sub-tenants -- is there an agreement that the sub-tenants signed with the landlord? If there are agreements that cover these issues, then those agreements will control the outcome of this issue.
Absent an agreement, sub-tenants are responsible to pay rent to the tenants, and tenants are responsible to pay rent to the landlord. In addition, tenants would be responsible for any damage caused by the sub-tenants, and would have the right to pursue the sub-tenants for these amounts.
Second, a landlord has the right to expect the unit to be reasonably available for showings to prospective tenants, which includes an expectation that the property be reasonably clean. If there were no sub-tenants, the tenants would be responsible for maintaining the property. If there was a showing, and the landlord gave sufficient notice, the tenants would most likely be responsible for cleaning costs if the house was so messy it was unsuitable to be shown to prospective renters. If the lease contained language covering the tenants' responsibility to clean, then I think a court would very likely enforce such a clause. The counter-argument is that cleaning expenses are a cost of doing business for the landlord -- in essence the tenants really have no duty to help the landlord re-rent the house, so why should they be responsible to pay these amounts?
This is a gray area, and depends on the facts and circumstances. At some point, a court will likely either think the sub-tenants are ruining the landlord's chance of re-renting the property or that the landlord is over-reaching. The difficulty in providing an answer is compounded by the fact that the tenants are not witnesses to what is happening.
At this point, maybe you could help the students by documenting the condition of the property. Go down and take a look. See if the sub-tenants will let you inside. Make sure to record what you see.
The tenants can also write the landlord objecting to the charges. The landlord may or may not deduct these amounts from their security deposits, so they may want to be prepared to pursue the sub-tenants for the amounts withhheld from their deposit.
Finally, most colleges have a service that deals with student rental housing. Some, such as the University of Minnesota, also have student legal support services. They know most of the problem landlords, and can help advise you regarding this landlord's history with students. That may also assist the students in making a decision on how to proceed.
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.