Q: My brother and his girlfriend have been leasing a home for the past two years. The girlfriend's son is 21 and living there without being on the lease. He has a long criminal record and recently pleaded guilty to a felony. The conviction was due to the son threatening to kill my brother with a loaded shotgun. There is a no-contact order in place, which means the son is not supposed to have any contact with my brother. The son was living somewhere else after the incident, but he got kicked out of that house. My brother's girlfriend let her son move back into my brother's house so he wouldn't be homeless.
Since the son continues to violate the no-contact order, my brother has left the property. The son has now been charged with violating the no-contact order. My brother wants to get out of the lease for his own safety and leave the area permanently. Under Minnesota law, is having his life threatened a valid reason for my brother to break his lease without any repercussions that would have a negative impact on his rental record?
A: There are a few circumstances that allow a tenant to terminate a lease early, including a disability that makes it impossible to live at the rental property; death; joining the military or getting transferred during military service, or domestic violence situations. Minnesota law allows a victim of violence, including domestic abuse, to terminate a lease early in order to protect themselves from further violence. Domestic abuse includes violence committed by a household member against another household member, which would include your brother in his relationship to his girlfriend's son.
Your brother should contact his landlord immediately and request that his lease be terminated due to domestic violence and the no-contact order being violated. Have your brother provide his landlord with a signed and dated written notice stating that he fears imminent violence from a person if he remains in the rental property, and that he needs to terminate the tenancy on a specific date, which your brother should specify in his notice. Your brother should also provide written instructions for the landlord advising him how to dispose of any of his remaining personal property. Your brother must attach the no-contact order to his written notice to terminate the lease early; he can deliver the written notice by mail, fax or in person.
Your brother is still responsible for the rent payment during the full month in which his tenancy terminates. He gives up any claim for the return of his security deposit, but he has no obligation to pay rent or any other charges for the remaining months left on his lease, unless he owes rent for past months.
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.