I am often asked what the landlord should do if the tenant either brings a rent escrow or tenant remedies action, or otherwise complains about the condition of the property. Sometimes, the tenant request a particular repair, and then complains about how long it is taking to make that repair.
The short answer is that the landlord should consult with an attorney experienced in rent escrow or tenant remedies actions. I will talk about each in the rest of this article, but suffice it to say that the landlord should make repairs affecting the habitability of the property as quickly as reasonably possible. Under Minnesota law, the landlord has promised to provide a habitable place for the tenant to live. The landlord's duty of habitability is sometimes called the covenant of habitability. In practice, this means that the landlord must make sure that the rental unit is safe and has a working front door and lock, and that the heat, hot and cold water, stove, plumbing, and electrical are all safe and functional.
The tenant can request repairs, and for big ticket items affecting the covenant of habitability I recommend that the landlord make those repairs immediately. For example, if a tenant complains about lack of heat in winter, the landlord should fix the problem right away. A tenant might also complain about items that do not affect the habitability of the unit. For example, a tenant might complain about an interior door that is off of its hinges.
I am not saying in any way that the landlord has to pay for damages caused by the tenant. If the tenant damages a unit (say, by punching a hole in the wall), and then request a repair, the landlord should still make that repair, but the time and materials necessary to effect the repair should be put on the tenant's account statement as damages beyond ordinary wear and tear.
A tenant has three basic options when it comes to addressing issues caused by the landlord's failure to make repairs. For this reason, I recommend that a landlord make repairs as soon as possible. The first two options are related – a tenant could bring a tenant remedies action, or emergency tenant remedies action to force the landlord to make the requested repairs. The third option is that a tenant could bring a rent escrow action.
In an emergency tenant remedies action, the tenant only has to give the landlord 24 hours advance notice of the tenant's intent to bring an emergency tenant remedies action. The judge might issue an order immediately requiring the landlord to either make repairs, put the tenant up in a hotel, or something else. Typically, however, the matter will be set for a hearing to determine if repairs need to be made.
In a regular tenant remedies action, the tenant is again asking the judge to order that the landlord complete repairs, but the rental unit must be inspected by a governmental inspector, the landlord has to of been notified of the repairs needed and the tenant's intent to bring a tenant remedies action at least 14 days in advance of the tenant bringing a tenant remedies action, and had a "reasonable" time to complete them.
The tenant might also bring a rent escrow action, but the tenant must notify the landlord of the needed repairs at least 14 days prior to bringing the rent escrow action. In a rent escrow, the tenant deposits rent into court (in other words, into escrow) and seeks to have rent abated – that is, reduced – for having to live with the lack of repairs until the repair is made. In a rent escrow action, I generally recommend that the landlord file a counterclaim for possession, but this is not an appropriate action in all cases, especially when the tenant has deposited the full amount of rent into court.
Still, a landlord does not want to get to a point where a tenant either brings an emergency tenant remedies action, a tenant remedies action, or a rent escrow action. For all of these reasons, I generally recommend that the landlord make repairs promptly, especially if those repairs affect the habitability of the unit.
Every landlord – tenant situation is unique, and I recommend that landlords talk to an attorney experienced in tenant remedies actions, rent escrows, 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, 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.