Q: I have been renting an apartment from my landlord for three years and never had a problem until now. When I moved into the building, I pointed out what was wrong with my unit. I told the landlord that there was mold on our bathroom ceiling and that our window screens are bowed. The landlord said she would fix those two problems, but still hasn’t repaired the ceiling mold or window screens. I signed a one-year lease three years ago, and the rent was set at $800. I wanted to move from a yearly lease to a month-to-month lease, so I texted my landlord about the change I wanted to make two months before my lease was to renew. I never heard back from my landlord, so I’m thinking the automatic lease-renewal provision in my original lease kicked in and I’m once again tied to a year lease.
My landlord then raised the rent from $800 a month to $850 a month. I recently received a note on my door stating that my rent will be raised next month to $925 and once again to $1,000 two months later. It does state in my lease that rent can be raised, but it does not state that the landlord can raise the rent whenever she feels like it.
Recently I started getting bitten by something. This has gone on for about a month. I went to the doctor with one of the bugs so the doctor could identify it for me. The doctor said it is bedbugs, but I haven’t traveled anywhere so I’m not sure how I got them. My landlord told me she won’t get rid of them until I move out. What should I do?
A: According to Minnesota law, in order to enforce any automatic renewal provision in a lease, the landlord must give the tenant written notice of this provision by certified mail or deliver it personally at least 15 days, but not more than 30 days, before the tenant is required to give their notice to terminate the lease. The notice must state in effect that the term shall be deemed renewed for a specified additional period of two months or more, in your situation one year, unless the tenant gives notice to the landlord of an intention to terminate their lease when it is due to expire. The notice must be in writing and must direct the tenant’s attention to the automatic renewal provision of the lease. Since you did not receive the required notice from your landlord, you are now under a month-to-month lease and either party may give a one-month notice to terminate this lease. Your lease cannot automatically renew for another year just because you didn’t hear back from your landlord and your lease contained a renewal provision. However, since you are under a month-to-month lease, your landlord can raise your rent by giving you a 30-day notice of the increase. If you are under a year lease, your landlord cannot raise your rent until your lease expires at the end of the year, absent any clause in the lease permitting rent increases. If there is such a clause, then your landlord must comply with the lease requirements in order to raise the rent.
Minnesota law also requires that a landlord provide a safe, habitable place for tenants to live. If you plan on staying in your apartment, then your landlord needs to get rid of the bedbugs. Unless the landlord can prove you intentionally, maliciously or through irresponsible conduct caused the bedbug infestation, then your landlord must cover the expense of exterminating the bedbugs. Landlords are responsible for the extermination cost, assuming a tenant was not irresponsible, but landlords are typically not responsible for paying for the loss of the tenant’s personal property unless the tenant can show that the landlord was negligent.
In regard to the repairs that needed to be made in your apartment three years ago, Minnesota law requires that landlords make the repairs within 14 days after receiving written notice that repairs are needed. Electronic mail satisfies the written-notice requirement if that is the typical way you are communicating with each other. If the repairs aren’t adequately made after two weeks, then tenants can file a rent-escrow action in the county where they live. Since you plan on leaving, and aren’t bound by a one-year lease, then you should draft your 30-day written notice to terminate your lease and mail it to your landlord.
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 Third Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.