Q I have a question regarding whether a landlord is allowed to charge a $50/month fee for having a dog after the lease is signed with no verbiage regarding the fee.

Someone in our building is not picking up after their dog, and the management has threatened to impose a $50 fee per month to every dog owner if this continues. Are they legally allowed to do this?,

A If you have a written lease, the management is not permitted to change the terms or charge you additional amounts absent any lease language permitting such charges, unless you agree in writing to any changes or until after the lease expires or as part of a new lease.

However, the management is permitted to assess charges for costs incurred because of tenant misconduct, and failure to clean up after a dog would probably fit into that category. Those additional charges have to be that particular tenant's responsibility though -- they cannot charge all their tenants a flat cleanup fee unless the fee is part of your lease.

So, your management cannot charge you for other tenants' misconduct and should not be able to enforce a $50 flat pet cleanup fee until your lease expires or as part of your new lease, unless there is language in the lease permitting your landlord to charge for additional items.

Read through your lease again to make sure there are no terms allowing the management or your landlord to charge for additional expenses.

Tenants vacated property

QMy tenants have a lease through July 2009, but I have just learned that they have vanished.

We had problems collecting partial rent for January and February, so I sent a family member to the property on Feb. 11 to collect rent. They have had ongoing financial problems due to the economy, so we have tried to work with them. Now they're gone!

I received a voice mail from my tenants' attorney saying that they have vacated the property and that it is in rent-ready condition.

What constitutes formal notification that a tenant has vacated? Do I need any kind of written notice from them? Do I have the legal right to enter the property?

And what is the timeline and my legal responsibility for processing the security deposit disposition letter? I am planning on filing a claim in conciliation court for back rent and future rent charges through the end of the lease, and I am wondering if I am required by law to try to re-rent the apartment.

A Since you received notification from an attorney that your tenants abandoned the property, the attorney's voice mail is definitely sufficient notice for you to legally enter the home immediately to change the locks and get it ready for new renters. You should call the law firm and get the firm's mailing address so you can write their attorney a letter confirming the voice mail message. Then you have some written proof confirming what is going on.

Under Minnesota Statute 504B.178 you have three weeks to send the tenants a letter stating the specific reason for withholding the deposit or a portion of it. If the tenants or their attorney don't provide you with an updated address, then their last known mailing address is sufficient. You may withhold from their security deposit only amounts reasonably necessary to cover their outstanding rent or other funds they might owe you based on an agreement, or to restore your house to its condition at the beginning of their tenancy, excluding ordinary wear and tear.

You didn't mention if they left any belongings behind. If so, you are required to store and care for the property under Minnesota Statute 504B.271. You would then have a claim against the tenants for reasonable costs and expenses in removing their personal property and storing it. You may sell or dispose of their property 60 days after you received their attorney's voice mail indicating your tenants abandoned the property.

If your tenants have left behind personal property, then two weeks before you hold the sale or otherwise dispose of the personal property, you should notify the tenants by certified mail or personal service at their last known address and by posting notice of the sale in a conspicuous place on the premises for at least two weeks.

In Minnesota landlords generally have no duty to mitigate the damages, which means you don't need to find new renters and can legally hold the tenants liable for rent until their lease ends in July 2009. However, even though Minnesota law doesn't require you to find a new tenant, you should give notice in your letter to your tenants that you have not accepted their surrender of the rental property and you do hold them liable for their obligations under the lease. You should read through your lease again to make sure there isn't a provision requiring the landlord to mitigate damages. I think you should still look for new renters because these tenants may not have any money to cover unpaid rent and other damages.

Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Do not rely on advice in this column regarding a legal situation until you consult a qualified attorney; information provided by readers is not confidential; participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship, and no such relationship is created without a retainer agreement with Klein.