Q: My daughter and her husband recently found mouse droppings in their apartment in Minneapolis. They have had multiple roach infestations, and pests continue to be a problem in this older complex. They said the recent mouse infestation is being caused by renters who are actually feeding the mice, allowing them to infest the entire building.
In one of your previous articles, you mentioned putting rent into escrow after giving a 14-day notice. How complex is this process? What would it take to allow a tenant the ability to break a lease for the property being unlivable? As I said there have been multiple infestations in the last six months. The landlord is slow to react and the cleanup is never easy or good.
A: Minnesota law requires landlords to comply with the covenants of habitability, which means the rental must be fit for the use intended, in reasonable repair, and in compliance with safety and health codes. In this case, there is a lease violation by one of the other tenants that happens to be feeding the mice and causing an infestation.
You didn't say what type of lease your daughter and son-in-law signed, but if it's a month-to-month lease, then they only need to give a 30-day notice to terminate their lease. If they are living under an expired lease, then they may need to give the length of notice designated in the last lease.
If they are under a six-month or one-year lease, and the pest infestation isn't getting resolved, they can send a written notice to their landlord requiring the pest problem to be resolved in 14 days. If the pest issue isn't resolved in 14 days to their satisfaction, they can file a rent escrow action in the county where they live.
They would file paperwork with the housing court or court administrator in their county and attach the letter or e-mail they sent their landlord asking the infestation to be fixed in 14 days, along with rent money if any is due at the time, and photos or any other proof they have regarding the pest problem. In that paperwork, they can also request rent abatement and their lease be terminated early due to safety and health concerns from the pests.
Infestation of roaches and mice that goes on for six months and is never properly remedied may warrant the apartment to be uninhabitable or unlivable. The filing of a rent escrow action is not a complex process since the tenants only need to give written notice to their landlord, then file an action in the county where they reside if their problem isn't resolved in 14 days.
The procedure has been changed slightly due to the moratorium. You didn't mention which county they live in. However, even though there is a moratorium because of the pandemic, Hennepin County and Ramsey County Housing Courts are currently hearing these types of actions by Zoom. They can print out the paperwork online and bring it into the court administrator for drop-off. It's $70 to file a rent escrow action in Hennepin County and $80 to file one in Ramsey County right now. If your daughter and son-in-law live in a different county, then they should check that county's website for instructions on how to proceed with a rent escrow action.
Another option is to have your daughter and her husband check their lease language. If it includes a buyout provision where they pay a couple of months rent to terminate their lease early, they should consider doing so. Due to the pest problem, their landlord may lower the buyout amount or allow them to terminate early and pay no fee. Even if their lease doesn't include a buyout option, they could still negotiate with their landlord for early termination of their lease because of the pest infestation. If they proceed with an early termination of their lease instead of a rent escrow action, make sure they get the agreement in writing that's signed by both parties.
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.