Q: I am getting threats from my landlord to pay December rent. However, the city inspector came to the property and put up a notice stating that everyone has to move out before Jan. 1. I am not sure what is going on with the property. Does my landlord have the right to collect rent even though he is unlicensed and we are being forced to move out?
A: Most Minnesota cities, including Minneapolis, require that landlords be licensed. City ordinances regarding licensing, and the outcome of not paying rent when a landlord isn’t licensed, are different depending on where you live. Some Minnesota cities consider it a criminal act for a landlord not to have a rental license and may grant a refund of all your rent paid. However, a landlord may argue the tenant received some benefit by living in the unit and should have to pay something.
Some cities require landlords to pay a penalty and fees if they are operating without a license. There is no rule stating that you don’t have to pay rent when the landlord is unlicensed, but a number of courts have determined that landlords who are unlicensed, in cities that require licenses, cannot collect rent.
Since you live in a city that requires your landlord to be licensed, you should contact your landlord and work out a deal to leave by Dec. 31, but not pay all or part of the December rent. Tell your landlord that it is illegal to collect rent without a license, and request a written agreement releasing you from any rental fees.
You didn’t mention your security deposit, but if you paid one, you should include its return in the deal. Make sure the agreement is signed by both parties. You should also demand that the threats stop immediately. If they continue, contact the police or consider obtaining a harassment restraining order at the courthouse in the county where you live.
Q: I’m a 62-year-old woman who rents an apartment in a senior complex, which requires that renters be 62 or older. The couple next door are seniors, but their 40-year-old daughter and her two children are living with them. One grandchild is a teenager with a boyfriend who calls me names. The daughter and her children do not pay rent, but my landlord won’t make them leave. The daughter says I’m lying about them living next door — they hide whenever the landlord comes around to check. I do not want to go over my landlord’s head by getting the police involved. What can I do?
A: As a tenant, you have the right to quiet enjoyment of your apartment. If a visitor is verbally harassing you, then your rights are being violated. You should contact your landlord again, let her know that you are being called names by the boyfriend of your neighbor’s guest, and request that your landlord put an immediate stop to that behavior. Since you’ve already contacted your landlord about the extra tenants, there is not much more you can do. She is allowing the extra tenants to live there, so the police will not get involved and remove them if there is no illegal activity going on.
You could file a rent escrow action, asking that the landlord take some action to either control the neighbor’s guests or enforce the minimum age for tenants. It is unlikely the court will order the landlord to evict the neighbors, but the court may allow you to end your lease early.
In addition, there may be tax incentives that the landlord is receiving for running a seniors-only building. If the landlord is violating those rules, the landlord may suffer serious tax consequences. Consider calling a tenant advocacy group like HomeLine at 612-728-5767 to see if it can investigate this issue and possibly write the landlord a letter.
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.