People very commonly ask about enforcing their rights as tenants without having to spend five or ten times their monthly rent just to protect themselves. Whether or not they actually accomplish the intended goal, this post will briefly identify and discuss a few of the legal proceedings available in Minnesota to tenants with issues regarding rental properties or disputes with landlords. We will address four useful, but less well known, proceedings:

Unlawful Exclusion or Removal; Action for Recovery of Possession – M.S.A § 504B.375

This action applies to lock-out situations by a landlord. The law generally prohibits landlords from engaging in “self-help” to remove or evict tenants. Upon submission to the district court of a verified (sworn) petition describing the premises and landlord, stating facts to demonstrate unlawful exclusion, and asking for reentry, the court shall immediately order the tenant to have repossession. Though you may have to make a deposit with the court as a bond for the order, the order has immediate effect and is enforced via the sheriff’s office. A landlord must make a motion to dissolve or modify the order should they wish to contest it.

Emergency Tenant Remedies Action – M.S.A § 504B.381

The second proceeding applies to loss of essential services (i.e. water or heat cutoff). Again, with submission to the district court of a verified (sworn) petition describing the premises and landlord, stating facts to demonstrate an emergency, and asking for relief, they may grant relief per the remedies in § 504B.425, described below. A tenant proceeding under this section must provide 24-hour notice to the landlord or at least show reasonable efforts to do so.

Rent Escrow Action to Remedy Violations – M.S.A § 504B.385

Whenever a landlord maintains a building in breach of the statutory covenants and responsibilities set by law, a tenant can maintain an action to establish a rent escrow. A tenant can begin the process in one of a few ways, but most commonly by providing the landlord with written notice of the violation, then depositing any rent due and filing an affidavit with court administration if the violation is not corrected within 14 days. The court must schedule a hearing to occur within 14 days of filing and deposit. The court can award judgment and fines as set forth in § 504B.425 and § 504B.391, respectively.

Violations of Building Repair Orders – M.S.A § 504B.391

Once a court has ordered the landlord to make some repair or improvement, failure to comply will allow the tenant to motion for a violation of that order. An order finding the landlord to have violated a previous order carries progressive monetary penalties for noncompliance and eventually results in criminal charges.

Under § 504B.425, courts have fairly wide latitude in crafting orders and relief. Prevailing tenants can also recover up to $500 in attorney’s fees, even where the lease does not otherwise provide for attorney’s fees. These processes can be strong incentives for landlords to comply, so long as tenants actually use them.

If you would like to discuss a landlord/tenant matter or other issue, contact Wilson Law Group to schedule a free consultation.