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I am often asked if a landlord should change the locks, lock the tenant out, or otherwise prevent the tenant from gaining access to the rental unit. The short answer is no, unless the tenant has already moved out, returned the keys, and has abandoned personal property.

Locking a tenant out or otherwise preventing the tenant from gaining access to the rental property carries both criminal and civil liability for the landlord.  On the criminal side, a landlord who locks the tenant out is guilty of a misdemeanor and faces a potential sentence of up to 90 days in jail. I do not know of a single landlord who would want to do jail time because of a tenant.

On the civil side, the landlord could be sued for triple damages (or $500, whatever is greater) and reasonable attorneys fees.  In other words, a landlord who locks the tenant out may have to pay for that tenant's hotel bill, if the tenant has to stay in a hotel because the landlord cut off the tenants access to the rental property.

If the tenant has moved out and abandoned personal property in the rental unit, then the landlord has a responsibility to secure that property under Minnesota law. In that case, the landlord might be able to change the locks, as a way of securing the personal property abandoned by the tenant.

However, if there is any doubt that the tenant has moved out and abandoned the property, then I would recommend that the landlord bring an eviction action against the tenant to recover the right of possession to the rental unit. Unless the tenant has relinquished possession by giving the keys to the landlord, the safest course of action would be to evict the tenant to recover the right of possession.

Every landlord – tenant situation is unique, and I recommend that landlords talk to an attorney experienced in evictions and landlord tenant law before taking action based on this blog post.  To that end, I invite landlords to give me a call at 763-450-9494 to discuss their unique situation. I have represented many landlords in conciliation court, but  typically do not represent tenants.

WARNING: The information contained in this blog post does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation.  Tim is licensed to practice law only in Minnesota, and the information contained in this blog post may not apply to jurisdictions outside of Minnesota.  Further, reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C.  You should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog.  To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.










 
 
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I am often asked whether a landlord should sue a former tenant in conciliation court to recover unpaid rent and other amounts due and owing under the lease. Typically, a tenant will be evicted, abandon the lease, or otherwise move out, but owe a lot of money to the landlord for unpaid rent and damages to the property beyond ordinary wear and tear.  The short answer is yes, for the following reasons.

A landlord stands to receive some if not all of the money the landlord is owed if they get a judgment against a former tenant. After all, a judgment that you get in conciliation court will (if you transfer or transcribe the judgment from conciliation court to District Court) show up on the tenants credit report and interfere with the tenants ability to get financing. A judgment is good for 10 years and can be renewed if it is not paid up.

I had one client who was a landlord who always sued tenants in conciliation court, transferred the judgments to District Court, and then got a call about five or six years later from the former tenants – because they could not get a mortgage with the landlord's judgment on their record.

Conciliation court is – in most cases – a lot faster and cheaper than bringing a lawsuit against a former tenant in District Court. The filing fee is a lot less and the landlord does not necessarily have to follow the strict rules of evidence and rules of civil procedure in effect in District Court. Depending on the county you are in, a hearing in conciliation court will be scheduled about three – four months from the date that you file a statement of claim and summons – or complaint – in conciliation court. The only way that District Court would be faster is if the defendant did not respond to your complaint and you proceeded by way of default.

The jurisdictional limit – or the most money that you can sue somebody for – in conciliation court is $15,000. Unless the tenant has done extraordinary damage to the property, that amount should be more than enough to cover the amounts of unpaid rent and other damages.

For all of these reasons, I think that bringing a claim in conciliation court against a former tenant is a viable option for all landlords. If you have a claim against a former tenant that exceeds $15,000, you should probably talk to an attorney to decide if conciliation court or District Court is the better way for you to proceed.

Every landlord – tenant situation is unique, and I recommend that landlords talk to an attorney experienced in evictions and landlord tenant law before taking action based on this blog post.  To that end, I invite landlords to give me a call at 763-450-9494 to discuss their unique situation. I have represented many landlords in conciliation court, but  typically do not represent tenants.

WARNING: The information contained in this blog post does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation.  Tim is licensed to practice law only in Minnesota, and the information contained in this blog post may not apply to jurisdictions outside of Minnesota.  Further, reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C.  You should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog.  To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.