Q: I have been paying for a Home Service Plus program for the home I am currently renting. During the pandemic I wasn't able to afford the payments on the Home Service Plus program, so after six months of nonpayment, they canceled the services. Now my water heater just went out and I paid out-of-pocket to get the parts replaced on the water heater. However, that didn't solve the problem, so now I need to replace the water heater.
My landlord has never reimbursed me for the program or for replacing parts on the water heater, and I have had the plan from 2019 until May 2022. Am I responsible for covering the price of a new water heater when I cannot afford to keep up with his appliance plan?
A: In Minnesota, landlords have a duty to comply with the Covenants of Habitability, which include keeping the rental fit for the use intended, in reasonable repair, and in compliance with safety and health codes.
Minnesota law allows the landlord to have their tenant make repairs or do some maintenance work on the rental unit, but only if the tenant is fairly compensated for these repairs or maintenance work and the agreement is in writing. For example, some landlords will have their tenants shovel the sidewalk and front steps, mow, or make some repairs at the home, but their tenant must be paid for the work and it must be in the lease or in another written agreement.
Requiring a tenant to pay for a service plan, without reimbursing them for it, does not comply with the law requiring landlords to meet the Covenants of Habitability. Even though the service plan requirement is written into your lease and you signed off on it, state law overrides your lease and you should not be required to pay for a new water heater for your landlord's rental home since it's the landlord's duty to keep the place in reasonable repair.
You have a couple of options. You could file a rent escrow action on your own, but first you have to write the landlord a letter asking that he resolve the problem. If the landlord hasn't fixed or replaced the water heater within 14 days, you can then file a rent escrow action with the housing court in the county where you live.
If you've already notified your landlord in writing about your water heater not working prior to now and asked that he take care of it, that will qualify so long as 14 days have passed since the written communication. If you bring the communication you sent to your landlord with you to the court, they have forms there you can fill out.
You should ask the court to order the landlord to repair the water heater. You can also ask for amounts that you paid on your Home Service Plus plan to be deducted from your future rent.
Another option is to talk to your landlord and let them know that appliance or service plans such as Home Service Plus do not comply with Minnesota law. You should request that your landlord pay for a new water heater along with reimbursing you for the months you paid for the program and the repairs you paid for on the water heater.
If your landlord agrees to your request, make sure to get the agreement in writing and signed by both parties. If your landlord refuses, you should contact HOMELine, a tenants' rights organization, at 612-728-5767 if you're in the Twin Cities, or 866-866-3546 if you're outside the metro area. You can also email an attorney there if you go to HOMELine's website at homelinemn.org.
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. Information provided by readers is not confidential.