Q: We moved into our apartment in 2012. At that time, the building was designated as “cats only.” This suited us, since both my wife and I are allergic to dogs. Last August we renewed our lease, and again had to initial all the documents, including the one that concerned pets. We read through as much of the paperwork as we could in the short time allocated for the lease-signing. There was no mention of a status change in the building.
Shortly after we renewed our lease, my wife and I started to hear dogs barking. I asked the manager and assistant manager about this. Both are new employees and were not familiar with the situation, but both agreed to look into it. I haven’t heard back from either of them with an acceptable solution. The manager did say that we could move to a different building, but with only four months left on our lease, this is not an acceptable solution for us. I then asked for a reduction in our rent, and I have heard no response to that request, either. It has been three weeks, so I asked again when I paid the rent on the first of this month, and nothing has been done.
If we had known that the building was going to allow dogs, we would not have renewed our lease. When they changed the smoking policy, they had no problem placing a policy-change notice on everyone’s door. Dog allergies are also a health concern, and should be treated with the same respect as smoking. In my opinion, the manager broke our lease agreement, but according to management, they do not have to notify the tenants of such changes. What is your opinion?
A: In Minnesota, there is no specific law that requires landlords to notify tenants of changes to the building. However, not notifying tenants of changes and failing to put those changes in their lease can cause problems for management, such as in your situation.
Minnesota law allows tenants to bring a Tenants Remedies Action (TRA) or Rent Escrow Action against the landlord when there is a violation of the lease. If your lease terms did not change, and your building does not allow dogs, but there are now dogs living in your building, your landlord has violated a section of your rental agreement. The typical solution is to contact your landlord in writing, requesting that the problem be fixed within 14 days. You did talk to your manager, and your manager came up with a solution: to move you and your wife into a dog-free building. Since you have rejected that solution, and have requested reduced rent instead, you should put that request in writing.
There is not a clear-cut answer to your situation because even though your lease was for a no-dog building, and your manager isn’t providing that, there may be little relief for you in Rent Escrow or TRA, as it could be difficult to prove diminution in value, especially since management is offering to let you move.
You should contact your manager in writing, requesting a reduction in rent for the violation of your lease agreement. Mention that you have enjoyed living there since 2012, but that you do not want to move until your lease terminates. You should also state that you appreciate their willingness to offer you a different place to live, but that you would prefer a reduction in your rent over the next four months until your lease expires. It is great that you are able to openly communicate with the manager and assistant manager verbally, but you also should put your contact with management in writing. Please get any agreement that you and management arrive at for rent reduction, or any other solution, in writing and 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 email@example.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.