Q: After I signed a lease for an apartment, someone from the apartment complex called me a week before I was to move in and told me there wasn't an apartment available because a person did not vacate his apartment. Now I have to run out and find a new apartment at the last minute. The apartment complex management avoids my phone calls, and when I go in person, the landlord locks the door so I can't get in. Can I take the management to court?

A: If you have a signed lease, then your landlord has to provide you with a place to live. They are responsible for any additional expenses, such as increased rent, motel, etc. You should go to conciliation court.

Q: After a month of apartment-searching, my fiance and I found one we liked, submitted our applications and deposit, and waited. The property manager said the results were fine, with the exception of two outstanding balances on our credit reports. We paid those, showed her proof of payment, and everything looked great. Now, the manager says that I can move in but not my fiance because of income issues. I make enough money to pay for rent three times as high, but my fiance works part-time and attends college. She didn't meet the minimum requirements. Couldn't they have figured that out from the application itself? She put down her hourly wage and number of hours, so they should have been aware of her monthly salary. To me, this sounds more like discrimination. What's your take?

A: Landlords go overboard on their screening process because they are worried that if they make an exception it will become part of the rule. If they are withholding your money (a deposit as opposed to an application fee), they shouldn't be. But if they are so blinded by their own rules, there is very little you can do.

Q: I recently became aware that many landlords hire tenant-screening services to check the criminal backgrounds of prospective tenants. The prospective tenant is required by the landlord to sign an informed consent as part of the rental application and to allow the screening service to obtain the state's criminal history information about the person.

Do prospective tenants have any legal rights to refuse to sign the consent? If not, is the landlord limited in the types of crimes or criminal history can be used to refuse housing to the prospective tenant? I believe a person's criminal history record goes back 15 years, and includes both arrests and convictions.

A: The criminal history is a public record, and can be checked by anyone without a release. A credit check requires a release. If the prospective tenant refuses to sign the release, the landlord can refuse to rent to the person.

Q: I have been a landlord for more than 25 years, and my experience with renting to families is that they cost hundreds more per year in wear and tear and damages than singles or couples without children. For example, I have units I have not had to paint even after three tenant changes because the tenants were childless. With families, I must paint after every move-out. Some of the costs are associated with items not exactly covered under the damage category, such as finger prints on the walls or the extra wear and tear on the yard. I know I can't discriminate against families, and I don't, but I was wondering if I am legally entitled to charge more rent for the unit, reflecting my increased costs for renting to them.

A: I would say no. The Fair Housing Act allows you to show business necessity, which is what you are asserting. However, charging different rates is so close to a per se violation that I would worry very much about doing it.

Q: I moved to an apartment community eight months ago and signed a one-year lease. Since then, my car has been broken into and vandalized and my daughter's bike was just stolen. Because of these events, we would like to move. I asked the apartment manager if I could move out one month before my lease is up, so that my daughter could start school in a new location at the beginning of the school year instead of having to change schools three weeks later. She told me there was no way to get out of my lease early and that if I chose to leave on my own, this would affect my credit rating for years to come. Do I have to stay until the end of the lease?

A: There is no way to get out of a lease early unless your landlord agrees.

-- Minneapolis attorney Thomas J. White practices in housing issues and consumer rights. Do not rely on advice in this column regarding a legal situation until you consult a qualified attorney; information provided by readers is not confidential; participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship, and no such relationship is created without a retainer agreement with White.

If you have questions concerning renting, you can e-mail White at twhite@kleinandwhite.com, post your questions at http://www.startribune.com/tomwhite or write in care of Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Because of the volume of questions received, it isn't always possible for White to make a personal or immediate reply.