Q: I am renting a home from a man who lives in the South. My roommate and I have been living in the home for almost a year now. There is a detached garage on the property. I have a handyman acquaintance who is unemployed, needs surgery and currently has no home. My landlord hired him to do some work around the house I am renting.
The landlord also told him that he could renovate my garage and, while doing so, that he could live in it. My landlord did not consult with me before giving the handyman permission to live in my garage, and there is no amendment to my original lease regarding this person. The handyman does not have to pay any rent. The landlord has indicated to me that the handyman is now my problem.
I have no access to my garage, and I’ve had to rent a storage building because the handyman has now taken over the grounds, too.
Am I being petty, or is there something I can do about this situation?
A: Under Minnesota law, your landlord is required to keep the property fit for the use intended by the parties. Since you have a signed lease indicating that there is a garage included within the premises you are renting, then your landlord is in violation of this statute by making the garage unavailable to you for the intended use. Even if the handyman is a person you introduced to your landlord, you have no signed agreement stating you are giving up the use of your garage to accommodate the handyman. In essence, this is a partial constructive eviction — you are being prevented from using some of the space you are paying to rent.
The handyman is not your problem, despite what your landlord says. You need to inform your landlord in writing that you signed a lease that covered rental of a house and a garage. Your landlord is in violation of this lease by telling a handyman he can live in the garage, which excludes you from using it. In your written letter to the landlord you should indicate, under Minn. Stat. 504B.385, that your landlord needs to correct this violation within 14 days. This letter acts as your notice and must be delivered personally or mailed to your landlord at the place where rent is normally paid.
If the landlord doesn’t correct this violation in 14 days, then you can file a rent escrow action in the county where you live and place your rent due, if any, with the court administrator along with a statement specifying the violation. Typically, when landlords receive a letter from a tenant indicating they have 14 days to correct a lease violation, they will fix the problem to avoid losing rent money. If not, then you will need to go to the housing court in the county where you live and file a rent escrow action, asking that your rent be reduced in order to cover the loss of the garage or that your lease be terminated. The cost of renting another garage in the area may be a good measure of damages.
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.