Q: I’m trying to find out if my landlord can begin working on a basement apartment now during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not feeling well at the moment, and he says he can work on creating an apartment right now in the basement of the house because he owns it. Where can I find out if this apartment in my basement is even legal for him to do, and whether he got state approval for this renovation?
A: All Minnesota landlords are required to keep their rental units in compliance with safety and health codes, in reasonable repair, and fit for the use intended. Currently in Minnesota, construction and critical trades, such as electricians, plumbers, HVAC, custodians, etc., are considered to be essential jobs and are able to work, so building renovations are being allowed during the pandemic. To renovate a home by turning a basement into an apartment would not require state approval, but would typically have to comply with the city zoning requirements for multiple dwelling units. This should be easy to determine. If your rental home is located in Minneapolis, for example, you should call the city at 311 or 612-673-3000 and ask to be connected to zoning so you can inquire whether your property is zoned for multiple dwelling units, and, if not, whether your landlord applied for, or has zoning approval to turn the basement of your building into an apartment. Also, permits for licensed contractors can usually be found on your building or near where the work is being done, or you can ask the city whether building permits have been issued. Another issue to inquire about is whether or not your landlord has a rental license. In Minneapolis, every rental property must have a license, including single-family houses and owner-occupied duplexes. A rental license is not required if the homeowner lives in the house and has roommates, but the number of roommates is limited by the housing maintenance and zoning codes. You should be able to find your landlord’s rental license certificate in a conspicuous place on the property. In Minneapolis, you can call 311 or 612-673-3000, and ask the city to look up the property address and let you know the status of your landlord’s rental license. Or you can look it up yourself by going to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/propertyinfo/index.htm and clicking on the “Search Property Info” link. That will take you to a page that will allow you to enter the address of your rental property, and will indicate whether your landlord has a license and its status. If your rental home isn’t in Minneapolis, then you should call the city where it is located and find out if your landlord has zoning approval for the basement renovation. You can also find out if the city requires your landlord to have a rental license for the property and whether or not he has a license.
Even though home renovations are allowed during the pandemic, and your landlord has the right to renovate his property now, provided he has the proper zoning approval and permits, you, as a tenant, still have the right to quiet enjoyment of your rental unit. The workers entering the property must follow pandemic safety protocols, such as wearing masks and staying at least 6 feet away from tenants. Since you have already voiced your concerns to your landlord, and he wants to go ahead with the renovations, your landlord is running the risk of alienating his current tenants. You should discuss your concerns with your landlord again due to your health issues. If you don’t want to stay, you could request early termination of your lease if there is no buyout clause in your lease language. If the construction is interfering with your quiet enjoyment of the property, you could file a tenant remedies action asking that the lease be canceled or that some other accommodation be made. If there is a buyout clause in your lease to terminate it early by paying a fee, you should consider doing so. Many landlords are being sympathetic to their tenants’ needs and concerns during the pandemic. Remember to get any agreement between you and your landlord in writing.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgInformation provided by readers is not confidential.