Q: I am a student at the College of St. Benedict/St. Johns in St. Joseph, Minn. As seniors, my friends and I jumped at the chance to finally have off-campus housing. We rented a home, and the walk-through was completed by the leasing agent before my roommate arrived to take possession. The checklist had been completed, so my roommate signed the form to approve the condition of the rental.
During our first night in the house, mice appeared, along with mice droppings and urine present in the morning. It states in our lease that the tenant is responsible for pest control, since we had “inspected the property.” How is an average person to know of a mouse infestation? We also recently were told to keep our dehumidifier running at all times because of black mold. It was our error to sign off on the inspection, but are we responsible for removing pests and mold? To me, those seem like problems a tenant could not see unless they were trained to detect them.
A: Minnesota law states that all landlords have a duty to keep the rental home or apartment fit for the use intended by the parties, to keep it in reasonable repair and in compliance with Minnesota health and safety laws. The law states that a landlord, agent or tenants may not waive or modify these covenants. This means that the landlord or leasing agent cannot require the tenants to be responsible for pest control, even if the tenants “inspected the property” and signed the lease agreeing to be responsible for pest control. Since repairs are the landlord’s duty, unless the tenant is responsible for causing the problem, your landlord cannot modify or waive this responsibility.
Under Minnesota law, if repairs are needed, tenants should send their landlord a letter stating what needs to be repaired and give the landlord 14 days to fix the problem. If repairs aren’t made in 14 days, then tenants can file a rent escrow action in the county where the property is located, placing any rent owed with the court.
Typically mold, mice or any other type of pest removal would be the responsibility of the landlord, unless the tenants caused the problem. You can lay out mouse traps and try to reduce your mouse problem, but it’s your landlord’s responsibility to fix it.
You should write your landlord a letter stating that there is a mouse infestation, and request that the problem be fixed in 14 days.
Your next problem, concerning mold, is a common repair issue that tenants complain about. If the black mold makes your rental home unlivable, then, in the same letter, you should request that your landlord correct the mold in 14 days. Many rental properties have some type of mold issue. If it’s just an odor, and running the dehumidifier fixes the problem, then it shouldn’t take much to repair. If the repairs aren’t made in 14 days to your satisfaction, then you and your roommates should consider filing a rent escrow action with the county. You should provide proof by taking photos of the mice droppings and mold, and attaching the photos to your paperwork. Remember, removal of mold may take longer than 14 days, so your landlord may request more time to make the necessary repairs.
Most universities have an office that offers assistance to students who are dealing with problems that come up in off-campus living situations. St. Benedict’s has an Area Coordinator for Apartments and Houses, 1-320-363-5580.
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.