Q: Our 24-year-old son has been renting an apartment in Minneapolis since November 2016. Initially, he had a one-year lease. For $80 each month, he also rented a space in a detached garage on the lot. In November 2017 he switched to a month-to-month lease. He e-mailed the manager to let him know that he wanted to continue renting the garage space. The manager’s e-mail reply, which our son still has, assured him that there was nothing else that he needed to do to continue renting that space. Our son has been including the additional $80 payment for the garage each month.
Last week, without any notice, our son discovered an unfamiliar vehicle parked in his space. He contacted the caretaker, who told him to contact the manager. The manager replied that the space had been rented to a new tenant. Our son forwarded the 2017 e-mail to the manager and indicated that he still wanted to have access to the garage space. The manager e-mailed back stating that there was nothing he could do, since the garage is now rented to someone else. He offered to rent our son space in a different garage, two blocks away, for $150 per month. Our son declined that offer. He still has the garage-door opener to his space that is now occupied by someone else.
Our son doesn’t know how to proceed or who to contact above the level of the manager he’s been dealing with at the management company. He is concerned that the company might retaliate if he tries to assert a claim on the garage space. We’re unsure about his rights and how to advise him. Can you help us understand the owner’s obligations to a month-to-month renter in this situation?
A: There are a number of issues raised by your question. First, Minnesota law permits a tenant to raise retaliation as a defense to an eviction action. So if the manager attempts to end the lease or kick your son out in response to his attempt to enforce his rights, then your son will have a pretty strong defense.
Next, renting the garage to another tenant will likely be considered a violation of your son’s right to quiet enjoyment of the leasehold. “Quiet enjoyment” is a common legal term that basically means that a tenant has the right to use the property in the manner intended by the lease.
Your son is currently occupying the property on a month-to-month lease, which, since he held over after his original lease expired, contains the terms and conditions of his original lease. The e-mail about the garage would be considered an addendum that added the garage to the lease, and therefore your son has the right to rent the garage until the landlord gives him notice that the lease is being changed, or until the lease is terminated.
Since your son is on a month-to-month lease, the landlord may alter the terms by giving your son proper notice, which is at least one full month, tied to the end of the following month. If the landlord were to give your son notice at the end of December that he was canceling the agreement for the garage, then your son would still have the right to rent the garage until the end of January.
Your son has the right to bring a tenant remedies action against the landlord, requesting that he get the garage back. Since most courts hold that it is a violation of quiet enjoyment to rent the same unit to two people, that same logic would likely apply in this case. The court, if it concluded that the landlord violated the lease, would likely allow the landlord to cover your son’s damages by offering a substitute garage at the same price. The court also would likely conclude that since the lease is month-to-month, the landlord has to offer the substitute garage for only one full month from the time he gives your son notice to terminate the garage agreement.
Since there are no other garages available, except for one two blocks away, that may be the one the court determines is acceptable to mitigate the damages. Your son should argue that the additional cost for the garage should be paid by the landlord, and the court will likely agree. In addition, your son could argue that since the replacement garage is two blocks away, he shouldn’t have to pay the full $80. The court may agree with that as well.
In the end, if the landlord won’t budge, your son will likely have to go to court. He could write the landlord an e-mail outlining the fact that if he did go to court, the court would likely find in his favor. Your son could also offer to rent the garage that is two blocks away at a reduced price. If he and the landlord do reach an agreement, your son will want to confirm the agreement in writing.
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. Information provided by readers is not confidential.