We have all had bad landlords. Some raise rent without notice. Others even pursue unfair evictions. Many don’t respond to repair requests.  Tenants can feel powerless. Fortunately, tenants have recourse, especially to force repairs—they can pursue a legal claim against their landlord.

Minnesota law provides strong habitability protection for tenants. Specifically, under Minnesota statute, a tenant has the following non-waivable and non-modifiable rights:

  • To live in a home that is fit for the use intended by the landlord and tenant
  • To live in a home that is in reasonable repair
  • To live in a home that is maintained in compliance with applicable codes
  • To live in a home that is reasonably energy efficient

If a landlord’s property does not meet the habitability requirements, then all or part of a tenant’s rent is not owed. However, withholding rent is risky and can result in the filing of an eviction action. There are less risky legal options a tenant may use to resolve repair problems. The three most basic are listed below:

Tenant Initiated Legal Actions to Force Repairs

ETRA – Emergency Tenant Remedies Action

  • For: Provides relief for loss of essential services or facilities like heat or water
  • How: A tenant needs to give notice at least 24 hours before filing an ETRA. If 24 hours passes without remedy of the emergency, a tenant can go to court to file a petition
  • Relief: Retroactive rent abatement based on impaired use and enjoyment (discretionary), fines, attorney fees, and/or consequential damages

Rent Escrow Action

  • For: Court action where tenant seeks court order for landlord to make repairs and obtain relief for non-emergency violations of Minn. Stat. § 504B.161
  • How: Tenant must pay to court unpaid rent at time of filing and any rent that accrues
  • Relief: Order for repairs, retroactive rent abatement, prospective rent abatement, fines, attorney fees, and/or other relief as court deems proper

Tenant Remedies Action

  • For: A residential tenant living in building where a housing violation exists, housing related organization with permission of tenant living in building or located in an area where unoccupied building is located, the state, county, or local department or authority
  • How: Must file complaint and file with court
  • Relief: Retroactive rent abatement based on impaired use and enjoyment (discretionary), fines, attorney fees and costs, and/or consequential damages