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Q Does our lease need to spell out what my roommate and I are responsible for as far as mowing, snow removal and leaf raking? Our lease states that we are responsible for doing it, but there is no compensation for performing these duties. It only says that we will be charged for them if we do not perform them. And who can assure me that my rights as a renter are protected?
A The only way to make sure the lease complies with all laws is to hire a lawyer. Since that usually costs more than a month's rent, most people do not. So, make sure you read what you are signing. Make sure it complies with your understanding of the transaction and the law. If it doesn't, either don't sign it or try to change the wording so it does.
As to the maintenance, Minnesota law is pretty clear that the tenant has to receive something of value in exchange for the performance of maintenance services, and that it has to be in writing. Some landlords argue that a discount on the lease is sufficient and some argue that by saying you will be charged an additional amount if you don't do it indicates that you are getting a discount.
No court has spelled out this issue, so there is no way to say how a court will decide. To me, if it says you will be charged an additional amount if you don't do it, and spells out the charges, this will likely be considered sufficient by a court.
Q I have a 12-month lease that is not up until June 30, 2009. I have had multiple problems.
I had hot water issues for three months and couldn't give my baby a bath at night.
I had roaches in my apartment; they tried to blame me, saying that I can't leave bread or fruit out. There was just a shooting at the building across the street. I have a baby and do not feel safe in my home. There is mold in our bathroom.
This is just all becoming too much. I do not want to have to pay the fee for terminating the lease early, but I feel like our health and safety are at risk. Am I stuck until next summer?
A As far as the roaches and the mold in the unit, you have the right to call a housing inspector from the city where you live and ask that they come and inspect the property. If they find mold or roaches, and consider it a safety issue, which is very likely, they will give the landlord a specific period of time to fix the problems. You should also tell the inspector about the hot water issue.
If the landlord fails to remedy the problems within that period, you should consider bringing a rent escrow action in the county where you live. The county courthouse has the necessary documents, and they will help you fill them out.
It is very difficult to get out of a lease simply because you feel unsafe, unless there is specific activity in your building, and even then it is not easy. Most of the time, the court thinks that a prospective tenant should have looked around at the neighborhood before moving in.
You can ask that the lease be terminated as a result of the landlord's failure to remedy the problems, if the landlord has failed to remedy them.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Do not rely on advice in this column regarding a legal situation until you consult a qualified attorney; information provided by readers is not confidential; participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship, and no such relationship is created without a retainer agreement with Klein. If you have questions concerning renting, you can e-mail her at email@example.com, post your questions at www.startribune.com/kellyklein or write in care of Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.
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