Q: I have an upstairs neighbor who has taken long baths throughout the length of my lease, and most likely long before I moved in. We are talking hours here. Her bathing has awakened me in the middle of the night, interrupting my REM sleep pattern. She also has caused mold to form in the walls of the apartment. I know this because I’ve had an air-quality test done using the Mold Armor kits that you can buy in the hardware store and then send in for testing. The test came back showing black mold.
The city property inspector said he cannot do anything more about it. I cannot continue to live in the apartment; I do not want to breathe bacterial mold. I have had a croupy cough for over three months now. I also have gone to my doctor six times and accrued over $1,000 in medical bills trying to figure this out. What should my next steps be?
A: In Minnesota, landlords have basic maintenance requirements, called covenants of habitability, requiring them to keep the property in compliance with safety and health codes, in reasonable repair and fit for the use intended.
When there is a repair issue, tenants have several options available to them. If the repair issue is an emergency, you can file an emergency tenant remedies action (ETRA), but you must first contact your landlord and give him or her 24 hours to make repairs.
You never mentioned contacting your landlord about your mold problem. Since the city inspector didn’t require your landlord to make repairs after his inspection, an ETRA may or may not be granted in your situation. However, there are other options available to tenants like yourself who need repairs that aren’t considered emergencies. You should write your landlord a letter asking that the problem be fixed and that the mold in your apartment be remediated within 14 days. If the repairs aren’t made in 14 days to your satisfaction, you should consider filing a rent escrow action in the county where you live, by completing the forms and placing your rent with the court, if there is any rent due at that time. You also need to bring a copy of the letter you sent to your landlord, to demonstrate that the landlord has had sufficient time to make the repairs. Also on the forms, you can request rent abatement, so that you can seek a refund for the time you were sick from the mold. You also should ask for early termination of your lease.
You should request that your landlord move you into another apartment in the building, if one is available, while your unit is being repaired. Or you can request to move to another unit permanently if you want to move.
Everyone in Minnesota has a right to quiet enjoyment, so it will be difficult for your landlord to tell your upstairs neighbor not to take long baths anymore, since she, too, has a right to enjoy her apartment. But you should negotiate with your landlord to determine whether there is another available apartment or to let you out of your lease if you want to move out.
If you come to an agreement with your landlord, make sure to get that agreement in writing and signed by both parties. If discussing the problem with your landlord doesn’t resolve your mold issue, you should consider filing a rent escrow action, as discussed above.
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.