Q: I am currently sharing a two-bedroom loft, and it has become a hostile living environment. I feel unsafe in my home. Is there a legal way to break a lease early?
A: Some leases have a “break-lease” section or clause indicating a fee the tenant must pay in order to terminate the lease early. Often the clause will state that there must be a reason for triggering it, such as a job transfer, purchasing a home or medical hardship. If one of the events listed in the lease occurs, the tenants are able to terminate their lease early, after paying the break-lease fee, and are not responsible for the remainder of the rent on the lease. Not all leases have a break-lease clause, which is why some tenants believe, incorrectly, that they can always break a lease early if they want to buy a home or some other life event occurs.
There are legal reasons for terminating a lease early that do not require a “break-lease” clause, such as a tenant with a disability that makes their place unlivable, or a tenant who joins the military or gets transferred. Another reason for terminating a lease early would be if a tenant fears imminent violence and has been exposed to domestic abuse, criminal sexual conduct or stalking. Then, a tenant may terminate their lease early by giving their landlord written notice stating why and when they will be vacating the apartment. You also must provide your landlord with proof that supports the imminent threat, such as an order for protection, a no-contact order, an official court statement or a statement from law enforcement or a licensed health care provider.
Since I don’t know if your lease contains a break-lease clause, or if you have a document that would be adequate proof of an imminent threat, you should immediately speak to your landlord about your safety concerns. You should ask that your lease be terminated immediately for your protection, and state that you’d be willing to pay a fee if that is required by the lease. Landlords want their tenants to be safe and will work with you to ensure your safety.
Q: I have rented a house near Excelsior for several years. The first two years I had a good relationship with my landlord, but in the last year she has become difficult and irrational. My lease expires March 30 and I’m wondering if it is reasonable for her to start showing the house? Are showings limited to normal business hours, such as Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or can she schedule showings in the evenings and weekends when I am home?
A: Minnesota law states that a landlord may enter the rental unit only for a reasonable business purpose and after making a good-faith effort to give the tenant reasonable notice of their intent to enter. A reasonable business purpose does include showing the property to prospective tenants during the notice period before the lease terminates, or after the tenant has given notice to the landlord that they are moving. Since you’ve given notice and your landlord knows you are moving out, then it seems reasonable for your landlord to begin showing your home. Showings do not necessarily need to be limited to business hours. Prospective tenants usually want to see the property at their convenience, which may be in the evening or on the weekend when they are off work. “Reasonable notice” isn’t specifically defined in the law. Many tenants believe the landlord is required to give them 24-hours’ notice before showing the unit, but that is not a requirement by law, unless both parties agreed to that requirement in the lease. Occasionally prospective tenants will call the landlord and want to see the place right away. Your landlord is required to give you reasonable notice under the circumstances, so they will call you, or leave a message if they cannot reach you, letting you know they will be showing the rental home that same day. That is considered “reasonable” notice under those circumstances. However, most landlords will give you 24-hour notice or longer if they know in advance of a showing. You have privacy rights as a tenant, but you cannot deny entry if you receive reasonable notice. You should contact your landlord and let her know you’d like at least 24-hours’ notice, if feasible, and that you’d prefer that she limit the showings to normal business hours as much as possible.
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.