Entering into a Rental Agreement
According to Minnesota law, when the owner of a house, apartment, room or other living space agrees to give to someone else, for a fee, the temporary use of that place, the two have entered into a legally binding contract. It does not matter if the agreement is oral or in writing. It is an agreement to rent, and thus is protected by law. The following describes what the law requires of both landlords and tenants in a typical rental agreement.
Inspecting the Rental Unit
Prospective tenants should be allowed to see the rental unit before they pay any money. You might want to include many things in your inspection. Please use the comparison grid found at http://www.stthomas.edu/offcampus.
Be certain of the number of roommates you will have. According to the City of St. Paul, only four non-related adults can live in any single residence, regardless of how many bedrooms there are. Properties found to be over-occupying are subject to immediate eviction. This ordinance is heavily enforced by the city in the neighborhood near St. Thomas.
Landlords have the right to require tenants to pay a security deposit. This is money paid by the tenant and held by the landlord to pay for any damage, beyond ordinary wear and tear, the tenant might do to the rental unit. The security deposit cannot be used by the tenant to pay rent. Minnesota law does not limit the amount a landlord may require as a security deposit.
At the end of the tenancy, a landlord must return a tenant's security deposit plus three percent interest, or give the tenant a written explanation as to why the deposit (or part of the deposit) will not be returned. The landlord must do this within 21 days after the tenancy ends. If the landlord does not return the deposit in the time allowed, the landlord shall be subject to punitive damages and be liable to the tenant for damages in an amount equal to the portion of the deposit withheld plus interest.
If a tenant does not get the deposit back, or is unsatisfied with the landlord's explanation for keeping all or part of the deposit, the tenant can take the matter to court, usually the conciliation court in the county where the rental property is located. There, it is up to the landlord to justify his or her actions.
Signing the Lease
Discuss the terms of the lease with your landlord. It is to your advantage to have a lease in writing. A written lease protects both you and your landlord by specifying the rights and obligations of each party. Verbal agreements are difficult to enforce or to contest if problems develop. Be sure to read your lease carefully before signing. It is a legally binding document. If there are any terms or conditions that are unclear, discuss them with your landlord.
Both parties should agree to any changes or additions to the lease. They should appear in the lease before it is signed and initialed by both you and the landlord. A rider or addendum may be attached to the lease and should be signed and dated by both parties. If the landlord has agreed to make repairs, for example, this statement should be included in the rider.
The following points should be covered in the lease:
- Name and address of landlord and tenant(s).
- Description of the property being rented.
- The number of people allowed to live in the unit.
- Dates covered by the lease, when and if the lease can be renewed and when and how the lease can be ended. If the lease is terminated, is there a penalty?
Questions to ask before signing:
- Are you allowed to assign the lease or to sublease?
- What is the amount of the rent and when is it due? Is there any grace period if not paid on this date? Is there a penalty for late payment? When can the rent be increased?
- Are the utilities included in the rent? If some are included, they should be specified.
- Who is responsible for maintenance and repairs? How will these costs be handled?
- Are pets allowed? If so, is there an extra charge?
- Who has the right of entry to the rental unit?
- Is a security deposit required? If so, how much? When and under what conditions will it be returned?
When a lease clause violates a law or denies a tenant a right provided by local law, the clause has no legal effect. You might encounter one or more of the following illegal clauses:
- Unannounced entry: This clause usually allows the landlord to inspect or show your unit at any time at his or her discretion. This is illegal because it violates the tenant's right to privacy unless sufficient notice (24 hours) is given.
- Forced eviction: Some leases state that the landlord can throw you out of your rental unit without filing an unlawful detainer action and going to court. This is not legal and the penalties to the landlord can be severe.
- Making a tenant responsible for repairs and/or maintenance without compensation: A clause stating that the landlord is not responsible for certain repairs and maintenance is illegal unless the tenant is compensated for the work (in wages or rent reduction)