Q I am renting a basement apartment of a single-family house, with another renter upstairs. We have separate entrances and a locked door between our units. Can my landlord require that I let the upstairs tenant use the laundry room, which is in the middle of my kitchen?
Also, the mail comes into a slot that is in the front entryway, which is the entrance to the upstairs tenant's place. If I want to get my mail, I have to have access to that entryway, essentially invading the other tenant's privacy. The landlords say they cannot put in a free-standing mailbox in place of the slot because the home isn't considered a duplex. What are your thoughts on these two issues?
A It depends on the language of your lease. If there is nothing in your lease, your landlord can request that you allow the tenant upstairs to use the laundry room in your kitchen, but you can say no. If you signed a lease that states the tenant upstairs has access to the laundry room in your kitchen, then the tenant has the legal right to be in your kitchen using the laundry facilities. If the lease language requires that you permit the tenant to enter the unit during reasonable times, then, even though you have separate locked entrances, you have to allow any reasonable requests.
All of this is tempered by the fact that the upstairs tenant currently receives your mail, which makes it difficult to say no to laundry requests. If the leases are silent on both the laundry and the mail, you and the upstairs tenant need to work something out.
Unfortunately, it sounds like your landlord is renting the house as a duplex even though it is zoned or licensed as a single-family home. I understand the financial pressures that most landlords face, but your landlord is running a business and needs to face up to the expenses of being a landlord. This includes making appropriate arrangements for laundry and mail, and obtaining an appropriate rental license. I am sure that having a laundry facility inside the building was an attractive amenity to the upstairs tenant, and probably allowed the landlord to charge a little more rent.
Maybe the landlord doesn't see having the upstairs tenant in and out of your unit all day doing laundry as an inconvenience, but most people would not put up with that for very long. In essence, you are living in a quasi-roominghouse, with all the additional security issues of sharing space with somebody you don't know, which sounds different from your expectations when you moved into the unit.
You should consider moving to a more acceptable unit as soon as possible -- one where you don't have to sit around all day wondering if another tenant needs to come in and do his or her laundry, or read your mail and magazines.
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.