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Landlords and Tenants: Rights and Responsibilities

Ending the Tenancy

Proper Notice

When the landlord or tenant ends the tenancy, he or she must abide by both the terms of the lease and by state law. The notice requirements for periodic and definite term tenancies differ.

For Periodic Tenancies

If there is no provision in the lease stating how much advance notice must be given to end the tenancy, the law provides that written notice must be received by the other party at least one full rental period before the last day of the tenancy. This means the day before the last rent payment is due.(132)

For example, if a tenant who pays rent on the first day of each month (in a month-to-month periodic tenancy) wishes to leave at the end of June, the tenant must inform the landlord in writing on or before May 31. This is because May 31 is one day before the June rental period begins. No matter when during June the tenant actually leaves, the tenant is responsible for the entire month’s rent. If the tenant or landlord misses the proper notice deadline—even by a day—the notice is void (no good) and the tenancy continues as if no notice was given.

The effective date of the notice is the date it is received. If the notice is mailed May 31, it will not be received by the other party until at least June 1 and will be ineffective to end the tenancy by June 30. The proper notice provision also applies to the landlord. If the landlord wants to end the tenancy, he or she must give the tenant advance written notice the day before that last rental period begins. If the landlord misses the deadline, the notice is defective and the tenancy is automatically extended for another month. The landlord must provide the tenant a second proper, written notice to vacate the rental property at least one day before the last rental period begins.(133)

For Definite Term Tenancies

Procedures for ending a definite term tenancy are generally written into the lease. Tenants with a definite term lease have to pay for the entire term no matter when they leave, unless the landlord agrees to accept new tenants who would take over the remaining payments. But some term leases have provisions allowing the tenant to “break” the lease. Often in such cases, the tenant is required to pay a “breaklease” fee—a sum of money and/or the tenant’s security deposit.

Some definite term leases spell out what kind of notice is needed to end the tenancy when the lease ends. Typically this is a written notice presented 30 to 60 days before the lease ends. Often such a requirement is part of an automatic renewal provision. Automatic renewal means if the tenant does not give notice he or she can be held to an additional period of time. For example, one or two months beyond the original term of the lease.

But if the automatic renewal is for an extra two months or more, the landlord must give the tenant written notice and call the tenant’s attention to the automatic renewal provision. If the landlord does not, the automatic renewal provision cannot be enforced. The renewal notice must be given either by personal service or by registered or certified mail. It must be received by the tenant 15 to 30 days before the tenant has to give the landlord written notice to vacate. (134) The tenant may not use the security deposit as the last month’s rent, except that the tenant may withhold rent for the last month of a contract for deed cancellation period or mortgage foreclosure redemption period.(135)

Holdover Tenants

If there is no provision in the lease about what happens when the lease ends (for example, nothing is said about converting the tenancy to a month-to-month tenancy), the lease simply expires and the tenant becomes a “holdover tenant,” and the lease is renewed on a month-to-month basis.(136) Some leases in rural areas (outside of a city) are renewed for a full term. At this point, unless the landlord agrees to continue the tenancy or a new lease is signed, the landlord can start eviction proceedings at any time and without notice. (Click here for laws covering eviction.) However, once the landlord accepts a rent payment from the tenant after the tenancy term runs out, then the tenancy is automatically renewed for another rental period and it becomes a periodic (usually month-to-month) tenancy.

Section 8 and Public Housing Programs

Section 8 is a federal rent assistance program that provides rent subsidy payments for low-income families renting privately owned housing. Under Section 8, a monthly rent subsidy payment is made to the owner and the tenant pays about 30 percent of the tenant’s income toward rent. For more information on Section 8 and other housing subsidy programs, contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, (612) 370-3000, or the local public housing authority listed in the telephone directory.

Right of Victims of Violence to Terminate Lease

A victim of domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct, or stalking who fears imminent violence against the tenant or the tenant’s minor children if the tenant or the tenant’s minor children remain in the leased premises may terminate a residential lease agreement under certain conditions.

The tenant must provide advance written notice to the landlord stating that:

  1. The tenant fears imminent violence from a person named in an order for protection or no contact order, or writing produced and signed by a court official or a city, county, state, or tribal law enforcement(137) and
  2. The tenant needs to terminate the tenancy(138) and
  3. The specific date the tenancy will terminate.(139)

The law requires that the advance written notice must be delivered before the termination of the tenancy by mail, fax, or in person, and must include the order for protection, no contact order, or qualified statement. The landlord is prohibited from disclosing information provided in this written notification and may not enter the information into any shared database or provide it to any person or entity. However, the landlord may use the information as evidence in an eviction proceeding, action for unpaid rent or damages arising out of the tenancy, claims under section 504B.178 with the tenant’s permission, or as otherwise required by law. (140)

The tenant is responsible for the rent payment for the full month in which the tenancy terminates and forfeits all claim for return of the security deposit.(141) In the event that the tenant owes the landlord rent or other amounts for a period before the termination of the lease, the tenant will continue to owe that amount to the landlord.(142)

Three-Day Notice During Winter

Tenants who vacate their units between November 15 and April 15 must tell their landlord they are vacating at least three days before they move. This allows the landlord time to take steps to make sure the pipes don’t freeze. A tenant’s failure to notify the landlord is a misdemeanor. (143)

Refund of the Security Deposit

At the end of the tenancy, a landlord must return a tenant’s security deposit plus simple, non-compounded interest, or give the tenant a written explanation as to why the deposit (or any part of the deposit) will not be returned.(144) The landlord must do this within 21 days after the day the tenancy ends, provided that the tenant has given the landlord a forwarding address. If a tenant has to leave because the building is condemned, the landlord must return the deposit within five days after the tenant leaves, and after receipt of the tenant’s new address or delivery instructions (unless the condemnation was due to the tenant’s willful, malicious, or irresponsible conduct).(145) If the landlord does not return the deposit or return an explanation in the time allowed, the landlord must pay the tenant a penalty equal to the amount withheld and interest and also pay the tenant the amount of the deposit and interest wrongfully withheld. (146) Minnesota law allows a landlord to withhold from a security deposit only the amount necessary for unpaid rent, (147) damages to the rental unit beyond ordinary wear and tear, (148) or other money the tenant owes to the landlord under an agreement (e.g. water bills).(149)

When a landlord’s interest in the property ends (for example, because of death, foreclosure, or contract for deed cancellation), the security deposit must be transferred to either the new owner or returned to the tenant. This must be done within 60 days after the current landlord’s interest in the property ends or when the new landlord is required to return the security deposit under the rules discussed earlier, whichever is the earlier time. (150)

If a landlord does not return or transfer the deposit, the court may penalize the landlord $500 for each deposit not returned or transferred. (151)

Interest

Interest begins on the first day of the month following the full payment of the security deposit. Interest runs to the last day of the month in which the landlord returns the deposit. When a tenant has sued to recover a withheld deposit, interest would run to the day the judgment is entered in favor of the tenant. (152)

Taking the Matter to Court

If a tenant does not get the deposit back, or is dissatisfied with the landlord’s explanation for keeping part or all of the deposit, the tenant can take the matter to court (this is usually the conciliation court in the county where the rental property is located). (153) There, it is up to the landlord to justify his or her actions. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has prepared a brochure entitled Conciliation Court: A User’s Guide to Small Claims Court, which offers useful tips on how to file a claim and proceed in conciliation court.

If the judge decides the landlord acted in “bad faith,” the tenant can be awarded up to $500 in punitive damages. If a landlord has failed to provide a written explanation, the landlord must return the withheld deposit within two weeks after the tenant has filed a complaint in court, or the court will presume the landlord is acting in “bad faith.”(154)

The law generally forbids tenants to use their security deposits to pay the rent. Those tenants who do may be taken to court and may have to pay the landlord the amount of the rent withheld plus a penalty. However, before the landlord can take a tenant to court, the landlord must give the tenant a written demand for the rent and a notice that it is illegal to use the security deposit for the last rent payment. The one exception to the prohibition on withholding rent is that a tenant may withhold rent for the last month of a contract for deed cancellation period or mortgage foreclosure redemption period. (155)