Q: I have been renting an apartment in Richfield for the past six years.
Since the building was constructed there have been severe water intrusions in virtually every apartment located here.
The management at the building is finally addressing this issue after years of ignoring the problem. Since the problem is now so extensive, all of the siding has to be removed, along with the moldy wood, insulation and Sheetrock. The windows and doors are being replaced, and interior walls, doors and ceilings are currently shored up with support beams. Bricks and stucco are being torn off, and, at the same time, the existing roof is being replaced.
While the work is in progress, the affected apartments are covered with a thin plastic that blows every time there is wind. The crews start early and work until 5:30 most evenings, except on the weekends.
The residents were told that the work would last approximately two weeks and would be done by October. Then the residents were told that the work would be done in February, and now the residents are being told that it will be next May before the work is completed. The bottom line is no one knows how long this process will last.
The apartment complex looks like a war zone with the constant noise of a teardown in progress. Although I understand that repairs are necessary, the inconvenience to me and the other residents is almost intolerable. There are days when the two garage doors are blocked by construction crews' cranes so I cannot park in the underground parking garage. The front and south accesses to the building, driveway and sidewalks are closed due to the danger of falling debris. As a resident, I have no idea if the building is structurally sound, nor do I know if mold is being released into the air. What I do know is that the dust is irritating to breathe.
During this construction, residents are required to pay their usual rent, despite having to live in these intolerable conditions. Not only are we required to pay the rent, but those whose leases have recently been renewed have had their rent increased by $25 per month. During this construction, residents are required to pay the additional costs of heating and/or air conditioning despite the fact that their windows and walls are covered in plastic. The construction crews routinely use the residents' electricity without any resident being compensated for this use.
Am I required to continue to pay full rent while this renovation is in progress and my walls, windows and doors are covered with plastic?
Must I pay for my heat and air conditioning when plastic covers my outside walls and the insulation is nonexistent? Must I pay for the electricity used by the construction crews when they are working on my apartment? May I break my lease contract immediately without penalties if the dust, mold and noise are adversely affecting me?
What legal recourse do I have in such a situation?
A: Minnesota law permits a tenant to bring an action against a landlord for violation of the landlord's duty to provide habitable premises, which would likely include all of the items you have listed.
In order to bring such an action, the tenant first has to write the landlord a letter outlining the issues that need to be repaired and asking that the situation be remedied. If the listed items are not resolved within 14 days, the tenant can then bring the letter to the district court in the county in which he or she resides, and pursue a tenant remedies action. You will be required to deposit any outstanding rent with the court, pending completion of a trial if necessary. Among the potential remedies you can request are that you be allowed to move immediately without penalty and that the lease be terminated, or that your rent and/or utilities be abated or reduced pending completion of the renovation.
If a tenant believes that the situation is an emergency, he or she can file an emergency tenant remedies action with the court.
There is no Minnesota statutory provision that simply permits a tenant to move out if things get bad, but there are some court cases in which tenants who have done so have been able to successfully defend suits brought by the landlord for unpaid rent. However, it is much safer to go to court and get the court's permission to move or the court's permission to stop paying rent, as the court will supervise the situation. Just as some landlords start work without regard to how it affects the tenants, some tenants stop paying rent and later claim it is because of the condition of the unit. Going to court first will protect you from being lumped in with those who are avoiding their responsibilities.
If you have not done so, you should write your landlord a letter noting all the concerns you have outlined, and requesting that they be fixed immediately. If they are not resolved to your satisfaction in 14 days, bring the letter to the housing court division in the courthouse, along with any pictures or other evidence that you believe support your position. Make sure you include a request that your lease be terminated, if that is what you want.
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, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.