Q: In order to continue to live "independently," my 93-year-old uncle has a non-relative living in his house with him. This person pays no rent; however, there is a clear understanding that, in exchange for a place to live, this person is to do certain chores around my uncle's home. The chores consist of taking out the trash and recycling, filling my uncle's pill box, doing his laundry, shoveling the sidewalk and changing my uncle's support stockings every morning and night. The agreement has evolved and is not in writing.
This person has told my uncle he no longer wants to do these chores, and instead has decided he would rather pay rent of $150 a month. My uncle doesn't want a renter, but he does need someone to help him with these chores every day. Now, however, the chores aren't getting done, and there is also no rent being paid. My uncle doesn't want the person to leave his house, but we are at a loss as to what can be done in the event we need to have the person leave. I have power of attorney for my uncle. My uncle has told me that this guy doesn't want to talk to me, and so far, he has done a good job of avoiding me. Do the same rules that apply to renters apply to non-renters?
A: Any individual who resides in a property in exchange for services or money is considered a tenant, even though there is no written lease. When there is no written lease, a landlord may terminate the lease by giving the tenant 30 days' notice, which should usually be directed to the first of the following month. For example, July 1 would be the appropriate termination date if you give your tenant notice before the end of May.
When an individual does not pay the agreed-upon rent, the landlord can simply bring an eviction action, requesting that the tenant be evicted for nonpayment. The tenant has the statutory right to remain in the property if the tenant pays the outstanding rent and certain court costs.
Minnesota law states that any agreement by a tenant to perform repairs or maintenance must be in writing and supported by adequate consideration. Consideration can take the form of reduced rent. In your uncle's situation, it sounds like the person living in the property would be considered to be a tenant who is working off his rent in exchange for the performance of certain chores. Since there is nothing in writing outlining exactly what those chores are, it may be difficult for your uncle to enforce the agreement.
Your best option, unfortunately, might be to simply pursue an eviction action, and ask the court to have the tenant evicted for failure to perform the duties. You could give the notice to terminate the lease outlined above, just to be safe, or you could simply pursue an eviction action for nonpayment of rent, asserting an estimated value of the agreed-upon services as the value of rent. If you give the notice, there will be a period where the tenant remains in the house rent-free, but failing to provide notice and bringing legal action against the tenant might place your uncle in a difficult or dangerous situation, and might result in the court refusing to enforce the original agreement, thereby dismissing the action.
The next best option may be to simply wait at the home for the tenant and talk to him. You should make it clear that you do not want to have to call in human services or bring legal action, but your duty is to look after your uncle's best interests. In the meantime, obviously, you will have to make sure there is someone coming to the house to take care of your uncle's basic needs. Hopefully, you can find a new tenant or hire someone who can perform this function permanently.
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.