Q: I read your column about a homeowner who needed to have his girlfriend move out in order to sell his home. I have a client who is a tenant, who lived with and took care of her mother for 11 years. My client's mother was the homeowner. Now, upon the mother's death, the estate wants my client out of the home. The estate says it is willing to give my client six weeks to move out, but I am pleading for more time. I looked for the statutory provision requiring the three-month notice you mentioned, but could not find it or any related article. Can you steer me in the right direction?
A: Typically, in these family situations, there is no written lease, so state law will dictate the notice period. The three-month notice to terminate a tenancy occurs when a landlord is terminating a tenancy-at-will under Minn. Stat. 504B.135. In that situation, either the landlord or tenant can give notice in writing. It must be at least as long as the interval between the time rent is due or three months, whichever is less. For example, say there is no written lease, but the tenant is required to pay rent monthly. Then, the landlord must give the tenant-at-will a 30-day written notice, since the rent is due monthly, and 30 days is less than three months. The tenant referenced in the previous column didn't have a lease, and wasn't required to pay rent, so there was no interval between the time rent was due, which then required her landlord to give her three-month notice. Under that same law, if a tenant is required to pay rent and doesn't, the landlord may then terminate the tenancy by giving only 14-day notice in writing. Your client most likely would be considered a tenant-at-will, since there is no lease. If she was required to pay rent to her mother each month, then her mother's estate would need to give her only a 30-day written notice to terminate the tenancy-at-will. However, if there was no monthly rent requirement, which is probably the case, then the estate needs to give your client a three-month written notice to terminate her tenancy.
These family situations are tricky and can be difficult to navigate. You should contact the estate's representative and let them know that, under state law, they need to provide your client with a three-month written notice to terminate her tenancy. I would also mention in that letter that 11 years is a long time to devote to living with and caring for a family member, and that additional time beyond three months would be greatly appreciated.
Deceased's security deposit
Q: My friend's mom was renting an apartment, and she passed away. My friend's family told the landlord that their mother had died and that there was no will. The landlord returned the mother's security deposit to the youngest child because that child asked for it. The oldest sibling was named on the mother's bank statement and also was listed as the person to contact regarding the mother's care. The mother's oldest child, my friend, then contacted the landlord to get the security deposit, but was told she would need to take that up with the youngest child. What should my friend do now?
A: When a tenant dies during the lease period, the lease may be terminated if all the adult tenants on the lease die. Since I believe your friend's mother was the only person on the lease, then the tenant's estate is required to give a two-month notice to terminate the lease, no matter how long the original lease was to run. If the mother's lease was only month-to-month, then the estate or your friend needs to give only a one-month notice to terminate the lease. The landlord is allowed to keep part or all of the security deposit for any outstanding rent that is owed, for damage to the unit outside of ordinary wear and tear, or for any other debt, such as a utility bill.
When a tenant dies, the landlord has a claim only against the estate, not the deceased's relatives. In this case, it sounds like the landlord is allowing the lease to end early, since they already returned all or part of the security deposit to the youngest child. You should tell your friend to get the termination of her mother's lease in writing. Most landlords return the deceased tenant's belongings and security deposit to the relative who requests it. Your friend could sue the landlord for paying the money to the wrong person, but your friend would have to be appointed as the personal representative of the estate in order to demonstrate that she is the correct person to receive the money. That may cost more than the value of the damage deposit. The landlord may be liable for damages in this situation for paying the wrong party; however, since the landlord doesn't seem to be charging the estate for full rent owed, and returned all or part of the mother's security deposit, the landlord may have a counterclaim against the estate for any rent legally owed by the estate.
Your friend should contact the sibling and request that the security deposit be shared evenly between them, or she will sue in conciliation court for half of the security deposit.
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.