Q: I was a tenant with a lease that ran until June 30, 2019. I vacated the apartment on May 23, returned the keys, and received a dated receipt. I heard nothing from the landlord regarding my security deposit until I received an e-mail on July 18, stating that I would not receive my $744 security deposit, and that I was being billed an additional $574.83 in damages and other charges. Included in these itemized charges was a charge for unreturned keys. As the keys were returned and this charge is incorrect, it’s not clear what other charges might also be incorrect or inflated. If the termination of the tenancy is May 23, then the landlord is noncompliant with Minnesota law, as they failed to furnish a written statement within 21 days showing the specific reason for the withholding of my deposit.
A: Even though you vacated the unit on May 23, with more than one month left on your lease, your lease may not have terminated until June 30. In Minnesota, a lease is terminated when the lease ends if the tenant stays until the last day, when a new tenant moves in or when the tenant moves after handing in their keys and providing a forwarding address. If a landlord does not return the deposit or an explanation within the time allowed, the landlord may be required to pay the tenant their security deposit, interest and a penalty equal to the amount withheld plus interest. In your case, I believe that your lease terminated when you moved and formally handed in your keys. However, since your landlord provided your itemization of charges within 21 days of the original lease-termination date, most courts would probably not penalize them for being late. Your landlord is allowed to withhold from your security deposit only the amount necessary to cover any unpaid rent, damage to the unit beyond ordinary wear and tear, or other money you may owe your landlord. You didn’t state whether you paid June rent or what the itemized charges included, aside from the unreturned keys. Your landlord needs only to provide you with a written statement showing the specific reason for the withholding of the deposit or any portion of it within 21 days of your lease ending. If your landlord didn’t give you any reason for the charges, or they seem inflated, vague or false, then you have a strong claim. Since you were charged for keys that you returned, and you have proof in a receipt, you should write your landlord requesting reimbursement for the keys and provide the proof. If you disagree with any other itemized charges, put that in your e-mail, telling your landlord that you dispute the itemized charges and why. If you are able to work out an agreement with your landlord regarding these charges, you should get it in writing and signed by both parties. If you cannot arrive at an agreement and believe the damage falls under ordinary wear and tear, then you should file a claim in conciliation court in the county where the rental property was located. You should attach any proof, such as the receipt, along with any other documents, photos or information, to your claim.
Q: I live on the second floor of a three-level apartment building in Minneapolis. I received a notice from the manager that the tenant on the third floor said that I was smoking on the patio at night. I am a smoker, but I have never smoked in the apartment or on the patio. The tenants on the first floor recently moved in, and I have seen them smoking on their patio. The notice said my lease may not be renewed because of this accusation. What recourse do I have?
A: If your lease states smoking isn’t allowed in your apartment or on the patio, then it’s a lease violation if anyone smokes there, and the manager may refuse to renew a tenant’s lease based on their smoking. However, if smoking isn’t mentioned in your lease, then it’s not a violation or a basis for nonrenewal of your lease. If smoking is a violation of your lease, and the neighbor misunderstands where the smoke is originating, then you should contact the manager right away and discuss this situation. Tell the manager that you do not smoke in your apartment or on your patio, but that others do, and the tenant who reported you is mistaken. Also, tell the manager that you will dispute your lease nonrenewal, since you did not violate the lease terms. If the manager still believes the third-floor tenant, and fails to renew your lease, there are organizations you can contact for help, including HOMELine at 612-728-5767, Minnesota Multi Housing Association at 952-854-8500, or Legal Aid at 612-332-1441. All are great organizations that assist tenants with their rental issues.
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.