Q: My son is currently renting an apartment in Minneapolis. He and his roommate both signed a lease that runs until the end of August. My son recently confided that their apartment is infested with cockroaches and bedbugs.
The infestation has been going on for a few weeks now, and they have notified their landlord of the problem. But the infestation has not been properly addressed. At one point, their landlord sprayed toxic chemicals in their oven to fight off the cockroaches.
I’m encouraging my son to leave a month early. The living conditions there are unacceptable, and the landlord has failed to effectively resolve the pest problem. My daughter faced the same situation where she rented a couple of years ago, but her landlord was much more responsible and had her place professionally fumigated. As I understand it, fumigation by a professional company is really the only way to deal with a bug problem.
The roommate is riding it out and staying through the end of August. Does my son have grounds for leaving early and breaking his portion of the lease, because of the bugs?
A: Bedbug or cockroach infestation is a housing code and health code violation. Owners and landlords are responsible for eliminating the bugs unless the problem was caused by the willful, malicious or irresponsible conduct of the tenant.
Under Minnesota law, typically the tenants write their landlord a letter stating that they need the problem fixed within 14 days. If the problem isn’t fixed in 14 days to the tenants’ satisfaction, then the tenants can file a rent escrow action by placing their rent money with the court until the landlord fixes the problem.
Since your son has only one month left on his lease, a written letter requesting that the bug problem be fixed in 14 days won’t help him much. Your son should talk to his landlord to see if he can work something out. His options include moving to an empty apartment in the building that has been professionally cleaned and is bug free. Another solution might be allowing him to move out early.
No matter what agreement your son and his landlord arrive at, your son should get that agreement in writing and signed by his landlord. Many tenants ask for rent abatement or a reduction in their rent when they are dealing with a bug infestation.
Unfortunately, these bugs can get into clothing and bedding, so your son’s belongings need to be cleaned before he moves somewhere else. Keep track of any expenses related to cleaning or replacing these items, and have your son discuss with his landlord how those expenses are going to be addressed.
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.