Q: I’m renting a single-family home in Minneapolis. My lease states that I am responsible for the upkeep of the yard. However, shortly after I moved into the house in April 2016, my landlord removed a lawn mower that had been in the garage. When I asked him about it, he said that he had had one stolen and that he or his son would do the mowing.
He also has stored a vehicle in the garage over the winter. There was still room for my car, so I didn’t complain. Since he was doing the yard work, I figured that I would let it go. My car has been leaking oil. He’s asked me to clean it up, which I have no problem doing. However, I park outside and not in the garage most of the time.
Now he wants to charge me $100 a month for maintenance of the yard, but he did not revise the lease. I believe my lease is month-to-month, so I am able to move if I need to, but I would prefer not to move out right now. I can tell him that I will take care of the yard from now on.
Also, the last time my landlord stored his vehicle in the garage, he accidentally locked it. To get in, he had to break a window. He has not fixed the window, and would need to do so before I could store the lawn mower in the garage.
Finally, when I moved into the house, there were mice. My landlord came over and put traps and bait all over the house. Nothing worked. After a while, my landlord said I could get a cat, so I did. Last winter my cat caught only one mouse. What if the mice come back this winter and there are more of them? How do I get my landlord to call an exterminator? And how do I go about insisting that my landlord fix the garage? Is putting it in a letter good enough?
A: Minnesota law allows tenants to perform lawn maintenance and snow removal and to make repairs, as long as the tenant is being fairly compensated for that work in a written agreement, such as your lease. The amount paid for the work must be adequate consideration — fair market value. Landlords should specifically state in the lease or agreement what the tenant is supposed to do and how much the tenant will be compensated for the work. They also must allow the tenant to opt out of performing the work. For example, if a tenant does yard work, he or she might receive $100 off the rent each month; or, if the tenant doesn’t do yard work, pay $100 extra in rent.
If your lease didn’t indicate an amount that you would be compensated for doing the yard work, and there isn’t another written agreement regarding you performing yard work, your landlord cannot legally charge you an additional $100 a month now because you aren’t doing the yard work. You and your landlord have had a verbal agreement that he and his son would do the mowing.
If your lease indicates that you are to be provided a garage space for your car, then your landlord needs to abide by the lease language. There are cleaning supplies that will remove oil stains, but if you are not able to remove the stains, you might be charged for the damage if it exceeds ordinary wear and tear.
You should send your landlord a written letter requesting that he fix the broken window in the garage within two weeks. If you have a mouse problem again, you need to include that in the letter or send another letter requesting that your landlord have the mice exterminated, and giving him two weeks to eliminate the problem. If repairs or extermination are not done to your satisfaction, you can file a rent escrow action in the county where you live, and place any rent money due at that time with the court. You will need to attach the letter you sent, so remember to keep a copy of it, along with any proof, such as photos of repairs needed or any other evidence, to substantiate your claim.
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 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.