Q: I was informed yesterday by one of the tenants in my 24-unit apartment building that she has a "severe flu." I asked her if she has been tested for COVID-19, and she replied that she has not. I told the cleaning person and the maintenance worker to be careful, and I also instructed the cleaner to spray handrails with Lysol more often than just twice a week. Should I notify other tenants? Should I put up a mask mandate for common areas?
A: The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has issued COVID-19 guidelines for landlords: www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/guidehousing.pdf. You should make sure your apartment building is safe and clean for your tenants and staff, and in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and MDH guidelines. You should give your tenants, staff and visitors information about COVID-19, face-covering requirements for indoor spaces, when and where to access testing, ways to keep the virus from spreading and how to find community resources if needed. You can do this by posting a sign inside the front and back entrances of the building with the information on it, including a notice to wear a mask in common areas, such as stairways, hallways, entrances and mailroom. You can e-mail your tenants the information also.
Your tenants are not required to wear a face covering in their apartments. However, face coverings must be worn in all common areas of a multiunit residential building. Landlords, property managers and homeowner associations must have a clear way for people to ask for a reasonable accommodation, so that they may use common areas if they cannot wear face coverings due to a medical or mental health condition or disability. As a landlord, you are not required to tell your tenants to go in for testing, give your tenants specific information about outbreaks, report cases or outbreaks to MDH, or contact your tenants' family members if they test positive. Therefore, you should not notify your tenants that there may be a potential COVID-19 case in the building. However, you should enforce a mask mandate by placing a sign requiring your tenants and any visitors to wear a mask in common spaces, and put these signs up at any entrance and common area. Then refer to the MDH link above for further guidelines or any other questions you may have regarding COVID-19.
Q: My upstairs neighbors moved in three weeks ago and are very loud at all hours of the day and night, which inhibits my ability to work and also to sleep. There have been several nights where I have not slept at all due to kids loudly walking around, laughing and yelling the entire night. This is greatly impacting my ability to function and my overall quality of life. I have already tried to go through all the proper channels including my landlord, the homeowners association, talking to the neighbors directly on several occasions, and to their property manager since the units are condos. How can I get out of the lease if it comes to that?
A: Your landlord has a duty to keep all units in compliance with all safety and health codes, in reasonable repair and fit for the use intended. These covenants of habitability that every landlord in Minnesota must follow are legally binding, regardless of your lease. Your unit may be considered not fit for the use intended due to the noise level that makes it difficult for you to work and sleep. Your noisy neighbors also have the right to enjoy their rental and make some noise in their own place. However, when it interferes with your livelihood and your ability to function and sleep, then it becomes a problem. Since you've spoken with your landlord and the neighbors upstairs, the property manager and the homeowners association, and they aren't resolving the noise issue, you should write your landlord a letter giving them 14 days to resolve the noise problem. It can be an e-mail if that's how you typically communicate. If the problem continues after the 14 days have passed, then you should file a rent escrow action in housing court requesting that your lease be terminated. You need to attach any evidence that you have, including your correspondence and complaints documented.
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.