Q: I am a landlord in Minneapolis with a renter who was taken to the hospital with congestive heart failure and kidney failure. She died two days after being hospitalized. Her son, 24, was living in the same unit with his mom from the beginning of her lease. Months before his mother died, he asked me to put him on the lease, which his mother agreed to in a text message. However, the son was not available at the time to sign the lease. He believes he is not obligated to pay their past-due rent. I have a text from his mother, his grandmother and a personal friend who could vouch that he was living there from the beginning. I’m wondering if I can collect from him the $5,575 in back-due rent that is owed to me. Could I take this to conciliation court?
A: In Minnesota when a tenant dies, the landlord has a claim only against the tenant’s estate, not the deceased’s children or other family members. If your tenant dies without assets, you won’t collect rent from the estate since there isn’t any money. However, in your case, there are mitigating factors, since there was another tenant living in her unit, and all the parties agreed to add him to the lease. Even though her son had not signed the lease, he was living there, paying rent and receiving a benefit, so he might be considered a tenant by the court. But there is also a chance that he wouldn’t be considered a tenant, since there is no formal signature by him on the lease.
Also in Minnesota a lease can be terminated if all the tenants on the lease die, which they have in this case since the son isn’t formally on the lease. Either the landlord or the tenant’s estate is legally required to give two months’ notice to terminate the lease, regardless of the length of the original lease. Before giving notice, you should find out if the son plans on staying and formally signing the lease. He may not want to stay if he cannot afford the rent on his own.
You have a couple of options, since you have a claim against the estate for past-due rent, and a claim against the tenant still living in the unit. You have an unjust enrichment claim against the son because he lived there without paying rent. You should file a conciliation court claim against the estate, as well as the tenant. You should make copies of any evidence you have and attach it to a claim, including proof of text messages and e-mails you received from the parties involved. You may have some difficulty identifying who to serve the court papers to regarding the estate, so you may want to contact an attorney to discuss that issue. You may be able to collect the entire $5,575 from the estate if the deceased left some assets. If there are no assets in the estate, then you still have a strong claim in conciliation court against the son, who would probably be considered a tenant. Remember, family members are grieving, and condolences go a long way in these situations. Be sensitive to their loss while still looking out for your business.
Q: I am trying to find a legal way to register my kitten as an emotional support animal (ESA) so that she can live with me in my apartment. I have had depression/anxiety since 2002, and my anxiety started causing panic attacks in 2010. They can get so bad that I have called an ambulance and been treated in the emergency room. There are a lot of ESA sites claiming to be legit, but I cannot tell which ones are truly legal in Minnesota.
A: Under the Fair Housing Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act you don’t need to have your cat registered in order for the cat to be considered an ESA and live with you in your rental home or apartment. However, you do need to have a letter from a licensed mental health professional, such as a physician, psychiatrist or mental health therapist, documenting your need for an ESA and stating that your cat would serve in that capacity. Your landlord cannot charge a pet deposit, but may require you to pay for any damage caused by your ESA, only if all tenants are likewise required to pay for damages they cause.
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.