Every well-written lease between a landlord and tenant has covenants. Covenants are promises made by either the landlord or tenant, or sometimes both, to do or refrain from doing some specific act.
One of the most obvious covenants is the tenant’s covenant to pay rent by a certain date on a regular basis. Some covenants are in place between a landlord and tenant even if it is not in the lease. One of these covenants is the anti-crime covenant.
The Anti-Crime Covenant
The anti-crime covenant is a promise between landlord and tenant to refrain from committing certain crimes on the rented property, and is governed by Minnesota Statute § 504B.171. The covenant binds both the tenant and the landlord from committing such crimes. The crimes include:
- allowing controlled substances on the property (drugs),
- allowing prostitution and prostitution related activities on the property,
- allowing the unlawful use or possession of a firearm on the property,
- and possessing stolen property obtained by robbery on the property.
Additionally, neither the landlord nor the tenant may use the property to possess, distribute, purchase, or manufacture controlled substances (illegal drugs).
Evicting a Tenant for Illegal Activity
When a tenant breaches the anti-crime covenant and commits any one of the above-mentioned crimes, the landlord may choose to evict the tenant. The landlord can either serve the eviction notice to the tenant himself, or he or she can allow the county attorney to file the eviction notice. The tenant is still going to be responsible for the terms of the lease, including the obligation to pay rent, until the lease is officially terminated. Minn. Stat. § 504B.171. Alternatively, a tenant has the right to sue the landlord for committing such crimes. Minn. Stat. § 504B.395. Under the anti-crime covenant, the landlord is not obligated to take action against a tenant. This responsibility changes when the police get involved.
Evicting a Tenant for Drug Crimes
When the police arrest a tenant for manufacturing, distributing, or purchasing contraband or controlled substances, the situation gets a little more complicated. The police must give the landlord notice within 30 days of the seizure of the the controlled substances. The police do not have to inform the landlord if the amount of controlled substances that was seized was less than $100. The required notice must contain information regarding what was seized from the tenant and what the potential penalties under law for the tenant are. Minn. Stat. § 609.5317. Within 15 days of receiving notice, a landlord must:
- file for an eviction of the tenant; or,
- ask the county attorney to file for an eviction.
The landlord also may contact the county attorney if, during the process of serving the tenant an eviction notice, the tenant threatens the landlord. If a landlord receives a notice of a second occurrence that involves the same tenant on the same property, the landlord may forfeit his or her property unless the landlord had filed to evict the tenant or asked the county attorney to do so. Forfeiture of the property may occur if the value of the controlled substances confiscated by the police is $1,000 or more, or if there have been two previous controlled substance seizures involving the same tenant. Minn. Stat. § 609.5317.
Defenses Against Eviction for Drug Crimes
The tenant may raise the defense against the eviction notice that the tenant had no knowledge of or reason to know about the controlled substances, or if the tenant could not prevent them from being brought onto the premises. Likewise, the landlord has a defense to the forfeiture of his or her property if the landlord was not notified of the seizure by the police or had made every reasonable attempt to evict the landlord or to assign that right to the county attorney. Minn. Stat. § 609.5317. These defenses do not necessarily mean that the tenant or landlord will not be held responsible. Such defenses are raised in court, and depending on the circumstances, the court may determine that the defenses are accurate and the tenant or landlord should not be held responsible.
In conclusion, a landlord and tenant promise one another to refrain from certain criminal behavior on the property. When one of these promises is broken and a landlord finds out, he has the right to evict the tenant. Likewise, a tenant may sue the landlord for breaking the covenant and committing the specified crimes. When the police make an arrest for contraband or controlled substances at a rental property, the landlord is obligated to evict the tenant under certain circumstances. Failure to evict the tenant may lead to the landlord forfeiting his property. It is important for the landlord to understand his or her responsibilities and the deadlines regarding evicting tenants in order to prevent the forfeiture of the property.
Dealing with evictions can be a messy affair, especially when criminal acts are involved. Contact an experienced landlord-tenant attorney who can advise you on your legal rights and options.