Q: I am wondering about landlords withholding security deposits and what constitutes damage. In my case, my landlord failed to communicate any results of a walk-through after we moved out on Nov. 30, until I made a second attempt to request our security deposit on Jan. 5. Now he is claiming there are a number of “damages.” I am wondering if he is past the date to make such claims. Furthermore, he stated “a lot of this could have been avoided if you had left the house in the condition it was when you moved in.” I know that in the state of Minnesota tenants aren’t expected to return the property to move-in condition, since there are considerations made for wear and tear. Can you help me understand my rights and let me know if we won by default because he waited 36 days to address “damages” to the unit?

 

A: In Minnesota, a landlord must contact tenants within three weeks after their lease ends with a written statement containing the reasons for keeping all or part of their security deposit, along with their partial or full deposit. The law states the landlord may withhold from the security deposit any amount reasonably necessary to cover any rent that is still owed, or other funds owed based on an agreement, like a utility bill, or to restore the unit to its condition at the start of the lease, excluding ordinary wear and tear. Your landlord should have contacted you within 21 days, but there is nothing in the law that states you then win by default and are able to get your entire security deposit back. The burden of proof is on your landlord, though, so if you decide to file a claim in conciliation court for the return of your security deposit, your landlord has to prove why he should be allowed to keep all of your deposit. Minnesota law also states that your landlord could be liable for damages in an amount equal to your deposit withheld, plus interest, as a penalty, in addition to your security deposit.

Since it sounds like your landlord still hasn’t sent you an itemized list of damages, you should contact him to let him know you will be filing a conciliation court claim, unless he returns all or part of your security deposit. Let him know that you have proof you left the unit in the same condition as the start of your tenancy, minus any wear and wear, and that you are willing to pursue an action due to his failure to contact you within 21 days as to why he was keeping your deposit. If your landlord returns your security deposit after hearing from you, that would be great. If not, and you want to pursue an action, then you need to file a conciliation court claim in the county where your rental is located. Attach any proof you have, such as e-mails back and forth, to let the court know your landlord didn’t contact you within 21 days, along with photos, and any witness statements or witnesses who could attest to the unit’s condition when you moved out.

Emotional support animals

Q: Are there any standard forms for emotional support animals in the state of Minnesota? I can’t find anything state-specific.

 

A: In Minnesota, there is no standardized form for an emotional support animal (ESA) or verification of disability/request supporting the need for an ESA. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Fair Housing Act state that a landlord typically must consider a reasonable accommodation to allow an ESA if the animal is needed because of a person’s disability. There are a few exceptions to this law, such as if the rental building has four or fewer units and the landlord lives in one of them, or if it’s a rental of a single-family home that was rented or sold without a real estate broker, or if the building is considered a private club. An ESA is an animal that provides support, comfort or companionship to people who are psychologically or emotionally disabled, but is not specifically trained to perform tasks to assist a person with a disability, like a service animal. A landlord may ask a tenant to provide documentation, which can be in the form of a written letter from a licensed health care professional, such as a physician, psychiatrist or social worker, stating that the tenant would benefit from having an ESA. However, an ESA does not need to be certified or have documentation proving that it’s an ESA. A landlord may not charge a pet deposit, but may require a person to pay for damages caused by the ESA, provided that all tenants are required to pay for damages they cause.

 

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 kklein@kleinpa.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.