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I am often asked what a landlord should do is a tenant dies.  If a tenant dies and was not married, I generally recommend that a landlord bring an eviction action against that tenant by name, and against the estate of that tenant, if only to get the rental unit back. That way, the landlord will have the legal right to rent the unit again and dispose of any personal property remaining there.

In the event of the death of a tenant, the landlord has three primary concerns: what happens to the lease, dealing with the tenant's personal property, and dealing with the security deposit. I will now address each of these concerns in turn.

Lease

What happens to the lease upon the death of a tenant is governed by Minn. Stat. 504B .265. Basically, the lease continues in force, until the landlord or the tenant (or the tenant's estate) provide notice that the lease has terminated.

The statute provides that either the landlord or the tenant can terminate the lease by providing written notice at least 60 days in advance. In other words, the notice must be given at least two full rental periods in advance. For example, notice given sometime in the month of September actually terminates the lease as of the end of November, and the tenant's estate is on the hook for rent from the date of the notice through the end of the lease.

However, the tenant's estate remains liable for unpaid rent and other amounts due and owing under the lease through the date of the lease termination. The landlord still has to deal with the deceased tenant's personal property as well as the security deposit, but can sue the tenant's estate in conciliation court for the amounts due and owing under the lease, including unpaid rent, unpaid utilities, and damages to the rental unit beyond ordinary wear and tear.

Personal Property Belonging to the Deceased Tenant

The landlord has the duty under Minn. Stat. 504B.271 to secure the tenant's property. This can be most easily accomplished by either changing the locks, if the property is going to be stored in the unit, or moving the property to a no other secured location on site, such as a lockable garage.  Once it becomes apparent to the landlord that the tenant has abandoned the property, the landlord has to secure it, as described above. The landlord has to store the property for 28 days if the property is to be stored on site.

After the property is secured, the landlord has to conduct an inventory of the property. The easiest way to do the inventory is to take digital photographs or a video of the property, accompanied by a list describing the specific items. Big-ticket items, such as a television, should be listed separately, but general categories are okay for other items, such as furniture, electronics, clothing, etc.

The landlord has to mail a copy of the inventory to the tenant (or the estate of the tenant at the tenant's last known address), which is probably the apartment. I recommend posting a sign on the door indicating that property appears to be abandoned to the landlord, the landlord has secured the tenant's personal property and that the landlord may be contacted to set up an appointment to provide access.

The landlord should only provide access to the personal property of a deceased tenant to someone who is named as a personal representative in the tenant's will.   If the tenant died intestate – that is, without a will – I would be very cautious about providing access to the property to a person who is not named or has been appointed as a personal representative. After all – the landlord does not want to be liable to the tenant's estate for improperly disposing of the tenant's personal property.

For more information on dealing with a tenant's personal property, please see my previous blog post on the subject:

http://www.balandlaw.com/3/post/2016/02/what-should-a-landlord-do-with-personal-property-that-a-tenant-leaves-behind-when-the-tenant-moves-out.html

Security Deposit

Security deposits in Minnesota are governed by Minn. Stat. 504B .178. The landlord has to return the security deposit to the tenant within 21 days after termination of the tenancy, with interest, less the amount of damages to the landlord beyond ordinary wear and tear.  When a tenant dies, the security deposit becomes the property of the tenant's estate. The landlord should return any deposit remaining, with appropriate interest, to either the named or appointed personal representative or to the estate of the tenant at the tenant's last-known address, which is probably the rental unit.

For more information on dealing with the security deposit, please see my previous blog post on the subject:

http://www.balandlaw.com/3/post/2016/02/how-should-a-landlord-handle-a-tenants-security-deposit-after-the-tenant-moves-out.html

The death of a tenant presents a complicated situation to the landlord, and every landlord-tenant situation is unique. For that reason, 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 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 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.

 
 
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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.