Not all landlords must have written leases. Under Minnesota law, landlord with 12 or more residential rental units must have a written lease for each unit. A violation of that requirement is a petty misdemeanor. Regardless of the requirement, nearly all leases should be in writing.
Where there is a written lease, the landlord must provide a copy to each tenant signing the lease. With a few exceptions, failure to give a copy of the lease to a tenant will act as a defense to a landlord's action to enforce the terms of that lease. For this reason landlords would be wise to obtain signed receipts or acknowledgments indicating that all tenants have obtained a copy.
Leases cannot override many of the minimum requirements for a tenant's rights under Minnesota law. For example, a tenant and landlord cannot contract away the requirement for the landlord to maintain a residential unit in a habitable condition. Parties to a lease also may not remove or alter the penalties and timelines that apply to the return of a tenant's security deposit. These are just a few examples of the many protections for landlords and tenants under Minnesota law.
Finally, it is important to note, for both landlords and tenants alike, that any provision allowing for a landlord to recover attorney's fees likewise enables a tenant to recover attorney's fees in an action on the lease.
M.S.A. Chapter 504B (2013).