Q: My husband and I have an issue with our landlord, who told us today that he is planning to start remodeling our bathroom. The remodel would leave us unable to shower for days. What can we do? Can this be considered uninhabitable?
A: In every Minnesota lease, a landlord promises to keep the place and all common areas fit for the intended use by the tenants, along with keeping the building and units repaired, compliant with health and safety laws, and reasonably energy-efficient. These promises must be upheld by landlords, and cannot be waived or modified in a lease by either party. You didn't mention how many days you would not be able to use your shower. However, repairing a tenant's bathroom while the tenant is living there makes the place unfit for the use intended, but most likely not uninhabitable.
You should contact your landlord and let him know he cannot start remodeling your bathroom without giving you another suitable place to live during the remodel, such as moving you to another apartment in the building or covering the cost for you to stay elsewhere. If you don't want to move out while the remodeling is going on, you could request rent abatement — a reduction in your rent for the time you will be without a shower. Let your landlord know that, either way, some concession or agreement must be made, since your place will be unfit for the use intended. If your landlord agrees to put you up in another apartment, or cover your cost to stay elsewhere, make sure you get that agreement in writing and signed by both parties.
Disabled son is in a protected class
Q: My son, who is an adult, has rented the same handicap-accessible apartment in a large complex for eight years. He had a spinal-cord injury eight years ago and uses a wheelchair. Recently, he received a letter from the property manager of his building stating that, "Due to various circumstances, we will not be renewing your lease." After some research, it appears that the manager is not legally required to provide a reason for not renewing the lease. My son said that he never received any complaints, however. We suspect that management is updating the apartments and planning to then charge higher rents. After a lot of stress and looking at many apartments, my son found another handicap-accessible apartment, which he rented. In our hunt for an apartment, we discovered that many buildings have some handicap-accessible units, but that those apartments are not necessarily rented to people with disabilities, making it difficult for those in need to find an apartment. Since our son is disabled, are there any exceptions or consequences for not renewing his lease?
A: Because your son has a disability, he is in a protected class for which there are federal, state and local laws to protect tenants against discrimination in housing. The property manager cannot evict, refuse to rent or charge higher rent to a tenant because of a disability. A landlord can choose to not renew a lease for any reason, or for no reason at all, but cannot refuse to renew a lease for discriminatory reasons, such as a disability. You can talk to the property manager to ask why he did not renew your son's lease. If the owner is renovating the apartments, as you suspect, then the manager may not be renewing many of the leases. Many buildings contain handicap-accessible apartments that end up being rented to people without disabilities, based on a first-come, first-served policy. There are consequences for landlords who discriminate against a tenant because of a disability. Landlords can be sued in state or federal court. Tenants also can file civil rights complaints with federal, state and local agencies. If you believe your son has been discriminated against, you should contact HomeLine, a tenants' rights organization, at 612-728-5767 if you live in the metro area, or 1-866-866-3546 if you live outside the metro area.
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 email@example.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.