Q: My girlfriend and I rented part of a duplex one year ago, and signed a one-year lease. During our tenancy, the management company was replaced with a new company. When we moved in, we filled out the move-in checklist with the first company, signed the lease, and paid the security deposit. Now that we’ve moved out, the new company is saying that it plans to charge us to replace the carpet because of a cat-urine smell. The smell and poor condition of the carpet were there when we moved into the unit, were noted on the move-in checklist, and the previous company was aware of this.
We made the mistake of not keeping a copy of our move-in checklist documenting the smell and condition of the carpet. The current company failed to get that information from the previous company, and apparently has been unable to get it now. Whose responsibility is it to keep the move-in checklist? Obviously, we should have kept a copy, and we’ve learned a lesson. But does management have a legal responsibility to keep the checklist? In addition, does the new company’s unprofessional behavior — texting us in the middle of the night, entering our unit with very little notice — make a difference? We want to know where we stand legally, and if we have a case in small claims court to get our security deposit back.
A: There is no law requiring you or your landlord to keep that paperwork. However, the landlord has the burden of proof for keeping a security deposit. Without the paperwork, it may be difficult to prove that you caused the cat odor. Can you get in touch with your old management team? If you still have someone’s contact information, I would explain what is happening, and request that they tell current management what condition your carpet was in when you moved into the unit. If you are able to contact previous management, you should request a copy of the move-in checklist, which is evidence that will make your case stronger if you end up going to court. The return of your security deposit and the unprofessional behavior are two separate issues.
In Minnesota, there are privacy laws regarding entering a tenant’s apartment. As long as your landlord makes a good-faith effort to provide reasonable notice under the circumstances, and has a reasonable business purpose for entering your place, it is not a violation of your privacy. Your landlord does not need to give you 24-hour notice to enter your unit. The notice needs only to be reasonable, which could be two- to four-hour notice for showing your place to a prospective tenant. However, 24-hour notice is often considered reasonable, unless management is doing major renovations in your apartment, which would require more notice. Management can enter your unit only with a reasonable business purpose, which includes making necessary repairs and showing the unit to new tenants. The law doesn’t require your landlord to actually reach you before entering, only to try to reach you. Of course, if there is an emergency, a landlord doesn’t have to provide notice. He or she may enter without notice if they reasonably suspect that immediate entry is necessary to prevent injury to people or property because of maintenance, security or law-enforcement issues, to make sure a tenant is safe, or to comply with laws regarding unlawful activity in a unit. If your management company enters and hasn’t given you prior notice, it must leave a note indicating the entry in a conspicuous place. If the company entered your unit without a reasonable business purpose, without attempting to give you reasonable notice (unless it suspected an emergency), or failed to leave a note, then it may incur civil penalties up to $100 for each violation. In addition, the company also may be required to return your security deposit, minus any amount kept to restore your unit to its condition at the start of your rental period, excluding ordinary wear and tear, along with any amount you may still owe them.
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 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.