Landlords and Tenants: Rights and Responsibilities
During the Tenancy
The amount of rent, the date it is due, and any grace period are set by the lease. If a tenant does not pay the full rent by the due date the landlord may start the process of taking legal action in court to evict the tenant, although most landlords will wait until after the grace period, if any, in the lease. Effective January 1, 2024, landlords cannot file an eviction action in court for non-payment of rent unless they first give the tenant a detailed written notice of an intention to file 14 days before filing. [Minn. Stat. § 50B.321, subd. 1a. (2023) amended by 2023 Minn. Sess. Law Serv. Ch. 52 (S.F. 2909).] (Click here for an explanation of eviction proceedings.)
When an apartment is rented to a group of individuals who will live as roommates, 100 percent of the rent is due from the unit. Typically, roommates come to an agreement for splitting the rent but the full amount of rent is still due, even if a roommate moves out while the lease is still in effect. For example, two people agree to share a unit and split the monthly rental cost 50/50. Unless the landlord agrees otherwise, if one roommate moves out before the lease ends, the remaining roommate will still have to pay 100 percent of the rent.
When a lease term ends on a date before the last day of the final month, the amount of rent to be paid for the final month must be prorated at the average daily rate so that the tenant only pays for the actual number of days that occupancy is allowed. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.116 (a) (2023).] This law applies to all leases even if it requires that the last month of rent is paid in advance. Neither the landlord nor the tenant can waive this protection. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.116 (a) (2023).]
If one or more tenants move out before the lease term ends they are still responsible for paying the rent for the full term (if the lease is definite term) or for the full rental period (if it is a periodic lease). The landlord may allow a new tenant to pick up the balance of the lease (known as a sublease).
A landlord receiving rent or other payments (like utility payments) from a tenant in cash must provide a written receipt for payment immediately upon receipt if the payment is made in person or within three business days if payment in cash is not made in person. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.118 (2023).]
The rent must be paid on the date it is due.
If the rent is paid after the due date, a tenant can be charged a late fee only if the tenant and landlord have agreed in writing that a late fee may be charged. The written agreement must state when the late fee will be charged; many landlords provide a grace period before imposing the late fee. The law limits late fees to a maximum of eight percent of the unpaid rent amount. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.177 (2023).]
Raising the Rent
Under a periodic tenancy, a landlord cannot raise the rent unless the landlord gives proper written notice. Proper notice is one rental period plus one day. (Click here for an explanation of proper notice.) During a definite term lease, rent cannot be raised during the term unless the lease allows for an increase.
Tenant’s Right to Privacy
Generally, a landlord may only enter a tenant’s unit for a “reasonable business purpose” after making a good faith effort to give the tenant reasonable notice under the circumstances. A revision to the law – effective January 1, 2024, provides that the tenant be provided at least 24 hours advance notice of the intended entry and the landlord is limited to entering between the hours of 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 2 (2023), amended by 2023 Minn. Sess. Law Serv. Ch. 52 (S.F. 2909).] However, the new law also states that the tenant may permit the landlord to enter the premises with less than 24 hours’ notice if so desired and in a different time window of entry. If a landlord violates this law, the tenant can take the landlord to court to break the lease, recover the damage deposit, receive a civil penalty of up to $500 per violation, and reasonable attorney fees. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 6 (2023), amended by 2023 Minn. Sess. Law Serv. Ch. 52 (S.F. 2909).]
Examples of a reasonable business purpose include:
- Showing the unit to prospective tenants. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 3(1) (2023).]
- Showing the unit to a prospective buyer or insurance agent. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 3(2) (2023).]
- Performing maintenance work. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 3(3) (2023).]
- Showing the unit to state, county, or local officials (i.e., fire, housing, health, or building inspectors) inspecting the property. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 3(4) (2023).]
- Checking on a tenant causing a disturbance within the unit. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 3(5) (2023).]
- Checking on a tenant the landlord believes is violating the lease. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 3(6) (2023).]
- Performing housekeeping work in a senior housing unit. A senior housing unit is a building where 80 percent of the tenants are age 55 or older. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 3(7) (2023).]
- Checking to see if a person is staying in the unit who has not signed the lease. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 3(8) (2023).]
- Checking the unit when a tenant moves out. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 3(9) (2023).]
A tenant’s right to prior notice may not be waived in any residential lease. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 2 (2023).] However, the landlord may enter the unit without giving prior notice in the following situations:
- When immediate entry is necessary to prevent injury to persons or property because of conditions relating to maintenance, building security, or law enforcement. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 4(1) (2023).]
- When immediate entry is necessary to determine a tenant’s safety. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 4(2) (2023).]
- When immediate entry is necessary to comply with state law or local ordinances. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 4(3) (2023).]
If a landlord enters without giving prior notice and the tenant is not home, the landlord must give written notice to the tenant. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 5 (2023).] If the landlord violates this law, the tenant may recover up to $500 per violation in court. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.211, subd. 6 (2023), amended by 2023 Minn. Sess. Law Serv. Ch. 52 (S.F. 2909).]
Additionally, a landlord can no longer prohibit tenants from possessing cannabis in their home. However, the landlord may still prohibit smoking or vaping.
Tenants May Seek Police and Emergency Assistance
A landlord cannot evict, penalize, or limit a tenant’s right to call the police or call for emergency assistance in response to a domestic incident or any other situation. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.205, subd. 2 (2023).] Any lease provision that limits this right is illegal and void [Minn. Stat. § 504B.205, subd. 2 (2023).] and a tenant may sue a landlord for $250 or actual damages, whichever is greater, and reasonable attorney’s fees for violations of this law. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.205, subd. 5 (2023).] But this law does not prevent a landlord from taking appropriate action against a tenant for breach of lease, disturbing the peace and quiet of other tenants, damage to property, disorderly conduct, etc. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.205, subd. 4 (2023).]
Additionally, while no municipality may require eviction of a tenant or otherwise charge or penalize a landlord for a tenant’s use of police or emergency assistance, this law does not preclude local ordinances from penalizing landlords for failure to abate nuisances or disorderly conduct on rental property. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.205, subd. 3 (2023).]
Minnesota law requires landlords to keep units in reasonable repair. This requirement cannot be waived. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.161, subd. 1 (2023).] However, the landlord and the tenant can agree the tenant will do certain and specific repairs or maintenance if:
- This agreement is in writing and conspicuous (easy to notice); and
- The tenant receives something adequate in return (for example, a rent reduction or payment from the landlord for the work). [Minn. Stat. § 504B.161, subd. 2 (2023).]
If the tenant has trouble getting the landlord to make necessary repairs in the unit, the tenant may use one or more of the following remedies:
- File a complaint with the local housing, health, energy or fire inspector—if there is one—and ask that the unit be inspected. If there is no city inspector for the community, write the landlord and request repairs within 14 days. If management fails to make such repairs, the tenant may file a rent escrow action.
- Place the full rent in escrow with the court, and ask the court to order the landlord to make repairs.
- Sue the landlord in district court under the Tenant’s Remedies Act.
- Sue in conciliation court or district court for rent abatement (this is the return of part of the rent, or, in extreme cases, all of the rent).
- Use the landlord’s failure to make necessary repairs as a defense to either the landlord’s Eviction Action based on nonpayment of rent or the landlord’s lawsuit for unpaid rent. (See below for a further explanation of defenses a tenant may use.)
Let’s examine these one at a time:
Calling in an Inspector
If a landlord will not fix a repair problem, a state, county, or local department or authority can be called by the tenant. If the inspector finds code violations in the unit, the inspector will give the landlord a certain amount of time to fix them. If the landlord does not make the fixes, the state, county, or local department or authority has the authority to serve a summons on the landlord to appear in court. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.395, subds. 1(4) and 5 (2023).]
A landlord may not retaliate by filing an eviction notice, increasing rent, or decreasing services because a tenant contacts an inspector. (Click here for more information about retaliation.) [Minn. Stat. § 504B.441 (2023).]
Rent Escrow Action
A Rent Escrow Action is an easy procedure that allows a tenant to seek relief for housing violations on their own without help from an attorney. Tenants may place rent in an escrow account when a landlord will not fix housing violations. Under the rent escrow law, tenants can pay their rent to the court administrator rather than to the landlord and ask the court to order the landlord to make repairs. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385 (2023).] A tenant may wish to speak with a private attorney or Legal Aid attorney for advice before proceeding.
The following are the rules and procedures for rent escrow that must be strictly followed: The first step is to either contact the housing inspector or notify the landlord in writing about the violation. As stated earlier, the housing inspector can order the landlord to make repairs if there are violations of the housing code. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.185 (2023).] It is important to contact the inspector and get a copy of the order. If the repairs are not made within the time the inspector orders, a tenant can deposit rent with the court administrator along with a copy of the notice of code violation. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subds. 1(a) and (b) (2023).]
Even if there is no local housing code, Minnesota law says landlords must keep rental property fit to live in and in good repair. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.161 (2023).] If a landlord has failed to maintain the dwelling so it is fit to live in, has not kept the dwelling in good repair, has not complied with state and local health and housing codes, or has violated the written or oral lease, the tenant should notify the landlord in writing. It is very important that the tenant keep a copy of this letter. If the problem is not corrected within 14 days, the tenant can deposit the rent payment with the court administrator along with a copy of the letter that was given to the landlord. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 1(c) (2023).]
A tenant may file a Rent Escrow Action any time after the required notice or inspection orders have expired. To file a Rent Escrow Action, a tenant needs to pay to the court administrator all rent, if any, that is due. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 1(d) (2023).] There is a small filing fee, but the administrator can waive the fee if the tenant’s income is very low. [Minn. Stat. § 563.01 (2023).] The tenant must give the administrator a copy of the inspector’s order or the tenant’s letter to the landlord. The tenant should estimate how much it will cost to make the repairs. The tenant must also give the administrator the landlord’s name and address. A court administrator will provide the tenant with a rent escrow petition form. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 5 (2023).]
Once the rent has been deposited with the court, the court administrator will schedule a hearing. The hearing will take place within 10 to 14 days. In most cases, the court will notify the landlord of the hearing by mail. If fixing the housing code violation will cost more than the conciliation court limit, however, then personal service is required. Someone other than the tenant must give the hearing notice to the landlord. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 5(d) (2023).] The landlord can take legal action to evict the tenant if the tenant does not deposit the full amount of rent in escrow with the court administrator. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 2 (2023).]
After the hearing, if the tenant proves that a violation exists, the judge may do any of the following:
- Order the landlord to fix the problem.[Minn. Stat. § 504B.425(b) (2023).]
- Allow the tenant to make the repairs and deduct the cost from the rent. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.425(c) (2023).]
- Appoint an administrator to collect rent and order repairs. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.425(d) (2023).]
- Return all, none, or part of the rent to the tenant. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 9 (2023).]
- Order that future rent be paid to the court, that the rent be abated (eliminated or reduced) until repairs are made, or that part of the rent be abated or refunded. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 9 (2023).]
- Fine the landlord. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 9 (2023).]
If the tenant does not prove that there is a housing code violation or if the tenant does not deposit the full amount of rent with the court, then the money and deposit will be given to the landlord. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 10 (2023).]
A tenant must follow the other terms of the lease while paying rent into escrow. According to Minnesota law, a tenant’s rent escrow rights and remedies may not be waived or modified by any oral or written lease or other agreement. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.385, subd. 11 (2023).]
Tenant Remedies Action
In a Tenant Remedies Action, a tenant can sue for the same items as in a Rent Escrow Action:
- A health or housing code violation. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.001, subd. 14(1) (2023).]
- A violation of the landlord’s obligation to keep the rental unit in reasonable repair. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.001, subd. 14(2) (2023).]
- A violation of an oral or written rental agreement or lease. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.001, subd. 14(3) (2023).]
A Tenant Remedies Action has more complicated procedures than a Rent Escrow Action. Some non-profits can bring a Tenant Remedies Action on behalf of a whole building’s tenants.
Before going to court under this act, a tenant should talk to the landlord about the needed repairs and try to get the landlord to fix them. If the landlord does not make the repairs within a reasonable time, the tenant should:
- Notify the local housing, health, energy, or fire inspector (if there is one). [Minn. Stat. § 504B.185 (2023).]
- Get a written copy of the inspector’s report. This will describe the problem and allow the landlord a certain number of days to repair it. If no inspector has been used, the tenant must inform the landlord in writing of the repair problem at least 14 days before filing a lawsuit. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.395, subd. 4(1) (2023).]
- Wait for the required time to pass, and then, if the repair work has not begun or progressed, bring suit in district court. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.395, subds. 2 and 3 (2023).] In court, the tenant must produce evidence that the problem exists (and should submit a copy of the inspector’s report if there is one). The tenant must also explain how the problem can be resolved. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.395, subd. 6 (2023).]
Effective January 1, 2024, court fees in emergency tenant remedies actions and lockout petitions will be reduced from around $300 to around $70. Tenants may still apply for fee waivers from the court if they earn under a certain income level.
Some tenants decide to withhold rent if there is a serious repair problem or code violation, but this presents risks to the tenant. Because the tenant may have to defend this action in court, it may be better to use a Rent Escrow Action instead.
If the tenant chooses to withhold rent, the tenant should follow these steps:
- Notify the landlord, in writing, of the needed repairs (both parties should keep a copy) and give the landlord a chance to make repairs. [Fritz v. Wharthen, 213 N.W.2d 339 (Minn 1973).]
- Notify the housing, health, energy, or fire inspector (if there is one) if the landlord does not make the repairs. [Fritz v. Wharthen, 213 N.W.2d 339 (Minn 1973).]
- Get a written copy of the inspector’s report. [Fritz v. Wharthen, 213 N.W.2d 339 (Minn 1973).]
- Notify the landlord in writing that all or part of the rent will be withheld until the repairs are made. [Fritz v. Wharthen, 213 N.W.2d 339 (Minn 1973).]
If a tenant decides to withhold rent, the tenant should be prepared to defend that action in court. It is very likely that the landlord will begin eviction proceedings. [Fritz v. Wharthen, 213 N.W.2d 339 (Minn 1973).] The tenant must:
- Not spend the withheld rent money.
- Bring the money to court when the tenant is required (summoned) to appear in court.
The judge may order the tenant to deposit the rent with the court. Tenants who fail to follow the judge’s order to deposit rent with the court may not have their defenses heard and can be evicted.
If the court decides the tenant’s argument is valid, it can do any number of things. It may order the rent to be deposited with the court until the repairs are made, or it may reduce the rent in an amount equal to the extent of the problem. [Fritz v. Wharthen, 213 N.W.2d 339 (Minn 1973).] On the other hand, if the tenant loses, the tenant will have to pay all the rent withheld, plus court costs. In addition, the case will be reported to a tenant screening service, impacting future credit and tenant screening checks. Therefore, withholding rent may be riskier to the tenant than a Rent Escrow or Tenant Remedies Action.
A tenant in poorly maintained rental housing can also use the landlord’s failure to make necessary repairs as a defense to:
- The landlord’s Eviction Action based on nonpayment of rent. [Fritz v. Wharthen, 213 N.W.2d 339 (Minn 1973).]
- The landlord’s lawsuit for unpaid rent. Again, the tenant should be prepared to show that the landlord was notified, knew, or should have known, about the defective conditions, but failed to repair them despite having a reasonable chance to do so. [Fritz v. Wharthen, 213 N.W.2d 339 (Minn 1973).]
A neighborhood organization is an incorporated group in a specific geographical area formed to promote community safety, crime prevention, and housing quality in a nondiscriminatory manner. A neighborhood organization can act on behalf of a tenant with the tenant’s written permission, or it can act on behalf of all tenants—if the majority of the tenants agree—in a building. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.001, subd. 5 (2023).]
In most situations, a neighborhood organization acts much like a tenant. A neighborhood organization can:
- Call for an inspection of a building about which it has zoning concerns. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.185 (2023).]
- Take to court the owner of a building in which a housing violation may exist. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.395, subd. 1(2) (2023).]
- Take to court the owner of any unoccupied buildings in its area. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.395, subd. 1(3) (2023).]
If a violation is found to exist, a judge can rule in favor of the tenant(s) and/or the neighborhood organization. Among other options, the court can order the owner to comply with all housing codes, under the court’s jurisdiction, for up to one year. Additionally, the court can rule against the building’s owner for reasonable attorney’s fees, not to exceed $500.[Minn. Stat. § 504B.425(g) (2023).]
The court may appoint a neighborhood organization as the designated administrator for a building as a result of legal action. When this happens, the administrator may collect rent, contract for materials and services to remedy violations, and perform other duties as outlined by the court. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.425(d) (2023): Minn. Stat. § 504B.445, subd. 4 (2023).]
Paint with lead in it was banned in 1978, but homes built before then often still have surfaces covered in it. Lead- based paint chips and dust can harm adults and can especially harm children. If a home’s paint is disturbed, like when repairs in the unit disturb walls or windows, then the tenants can be exposed to the chips or dust without them knowing, like when lead dust has settled on food or counters, or when children pick up paint chips and put them in their mouths. Lead is especially dangerous to children under the age of 6 because children’s brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead and because children’s growing bodies absorb more lead than adults. Babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths, which can have lead-paint dust on them. Tenants who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should know that lead is also dangerous to a developing fetus. Even exposure to low levels of lead can severely harm fetuses and children and can cause brain damage, learning disabilities, attention-deficit disorders, and decreased intelligence. [https://www.epa.gov/lead/learn-about-lead#effects] Pregnant tenants exposed to lead-paint chips or dust are also more likely to have a miscarriage.
Tenants who rent units built prior to 1978 can often request that a health inspector check their home for lead-paint hazards. Tenants can also find a certified inspector at www.epa.gov/lead. Tenants should talk with their child’s doctor about testing for lead with a simple blood test if they rent a unit built prior to 1978. Lead poisoning can be detected and treated if caught soon after exposure to the paint chips or dust.
Uninhabitable or Condemned Buildings
If the tenancy started after a state or local authority condemned or declared the rental property unfit for human habitation, a landlord may not accept rent or a security deposit for that residential rental property. By violating this law, the landlord is liable to the tenant for actual damages and three times the amount of all money collected from the tenant after the date the property is condemned or declared unfit by state or local officials, plus court costs and attorney’s fees. Actual damages may include items such as moving expenses, temporary lodging and other costs. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.204 (2023).] If a building is condemned, a landlord must return the tenant’s security deposit within five days after the tenant moves from the building, unless the tenant’s willful, malicious or irresponsible conduct caused the condemnation. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.178, subd. 3(a)(2) (2023).]
Minnesota law states that if a building is destroyed or becomes uninhabitable or unfit to live in through no fault of the tenant, the tenant may leave the rental unit. In that situation, the tenant is not required to pay any more rent to the landlord. [Minn. Stat. § 504B.131 (2023).] But if the building has not been condemned a tenant who relies on this law to break a lease may run the risk that a court will not agree that the building was uninhabitable. The tenant may want to consider using the remedies discussed above rather than to vacate the rental unit without proper notice.