Q My sister and her family rented a duplex apartment, but one month after moving in, the furnace died and there was no heat.

She has five kids and the landlord told her that he would get them a couple of electric heaters. When she received her utility bill, it was very high and she couldn't afford to pay it.

Should my sister's landlord pay half of the bill since he told them that the only thing they are responsible for is rent and electricity?

A There is no clear-cut answer, but it does seem as though the landlord changed the terms of the lease by changing from the furnace, which he paid, to electric heat, which your sister paid. In addition, there may be safety issues resulting from electric heaters around young children.

Your sister has three options. The first is to go to the landlord to see if something can be worked out; maybe the landlord can pay the difference above the last electric bill prior to the change to electric heat.

The second would be to call a housing inspector to see if the heaters comply with the housing code.

If the landlord won't agree, or your sister cannot work out a reasonable solution after contacting the housing authorities, her only real option is to pursue the matter in housing court as a rent escrow action.

They have forms your sister can fill out, and the court can determine an equitable solution. She should remember that she has to write a letter to the landlord asking that he fix the problem at least 14 days prior to filing the rent escrow action.

If the problem remains unresolved, she can then go forward with the rent escrow action. Tell her to keep a copy of the letter she sends to the landlord, requesting resolution of the heating problem; she will need it if she decides to file a rent escrow action.

Winter move-out restrictions

Q I have a tenant who just gave me a notice to vacate and just wanted to make sure of the rules regarding winter move-outs. Is it only enforceable from November to February?

I have no problem with her leaving as she is giving me the 60 days' notice I asked for, but I just want to know the law.

A Minnesota Statute 504B.155 states that, except upon the termination of a tenancy, a tenant who intends to vacate a unit between Nov. 15 and April 15, with fixtures that are liable to injury from freezing, must give at least a three-day written notice of their intent to move or be guilty of a misdemeanor.

To answer your question, the law is only applicable to the Nov. 15 to April 15 time frame, and only requires at least a three-day notice.

Since the tenant gave a 60-day notice, it appears she is covered.

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 kklein@kleinpa.com, post your questions at www.startribune.com/kellyklein or write in care of Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.