Q: My friend’s lease ended on July 28, but was broken by him before that date. He notified the landlord of his intent and requested to end the lease early, but the landlord dragged his feet and never agreed to an early termination. My friend vacated on May 7. He later learned that his landlord signed a new lease with a new tenant on May 4, to begin on June 1. My friend has proof of this — a copy of the new tenant’s lease. He requested a statement of damages or deductions from his deposit on May 21, but the landlord did not provide one until June 13.
I am trying to determine when my friend’s tenancy legally ended. Minnesota law requires that a landlord return a deposit or provide a statement of damages within three weeks of termination of the tenancy. But when does that clock start ticking? Does it begin when the property was vacated and surrendered, or does termination continue until the end of the contractual lease term? Since my friend’s unit was rented on June 1, I would expect that his tenancy would have to have ended sometime prior to the new tenant’s lease beginning. I would expect it to be when the property was surrendered, but I cannot find anything that defines when termination of tenancy legally occurs.
Partial rent for June was paid by my friend. However, despite collecting all of June rent from the new tenant, the landlord is refusing to refund the partial June rent paid by my friend. I’m pretty sure the landlord cannot collect double rent, but I cannot find anything about that in the statute, either. Can you point me to the correct statute or some other reference that my friend can cite in his written complaint?
A: The answers to your questions are not found in the statute, but can be found in case law. It is often difficult to determine when a tenancy ends, especially if it occurs before or after the terms stated in the lease. When a tenant leaves at the end of their lease, it is easy to determine that date as the start of the 21-day period. It becomes more difficult when the tenant leaves before the end of their lease, as in your friend’s case. Sometimes there is a mutual agreement to terminate the lease early, with a signed document stating the termination date, but that didn’t occur in your friend’s situation. If a tenant leaves before the end of their lease, and a new tenant moves in, this will also end the tenancy, which is what happened in your friend’s situation. Based on this information, your friend’s tenancy ended on June 1, so the landlord was in compliance by providing a letter on June 13, within the 21-day rule. An argument could be made for your friend’s tenancy ending on May 4 or May 7, based on these facts, but I cannot say if it would be successful.
According to Minnesota case law, if a landlord does re-rent the unit, they are not allowed to collect double rent. In Minnesota, landlords don’t have a duty to mitigate, which means to rent out the unit to a new tenant when another tenant terminates early. If they do mitigate, though, as your friend’s landlord did, and they collect the same amount of rent from the new tenant, the landlord cannot turn around and get additional rent from the previous tenant. Your friend has a strong argument for getting his partial rent money back for June, unless he owes his landlord money from past unpaid rent.
Also, if his landlord was not able to get the same amount of rent from the new tenant, then your friend may end up owing the difference for June and July, since his lease wasn’t terminating until July 28. In most cases, the lease terms are the same for the new renter, with the potential for increased rent, so this may not be an issue in your friend’s case. Since your friend has a copy of the new renter’s lease, then he already knows what the new tenant’s rent is, and would know whether he needs to pay the difference for June and July.
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.