Unlawful Removal of a Tenant – Locking a Tenant Out or Shutting Off Utilities
Under Minnesota Statutes §§ 504B.225 and 609.606, a landlord, agent of a landlord, or person working under the control of the landlord cannot unlawfully remove or exclude a tenant. A landlord who is guilty of such an act is guilty of a misdemeanor. If a tenant calls the police, the landlord may be arrested for committing misdemeanor lockout. There are two major ways that a landlord can unlawfully exclude the tenant.
- First, a landlord who unlawfully enters rental property to change the locks and lock out the tenant has excluded the tenant.
- Second, when a landlord unlawfully enters the rental property to turn off the utilities (electric, heat, gas, or water services) it is presumed that he did so to remove or exclude the tenant.
If a landlord wants the tenant out of the rental property, the landlord must go through the eviction proceedings in court, the landlord cannot do it alone by locking out or shutting off the utilities of the tenant in the hopes that the tenant leaves.
Consequences to Unlawfully Removing a Tenant
When a landlord unlawfully tries to remove or exclude the tenant, the tenant is entitled to recover damages. The tenant may recover treble damages or $500, whichever is greater. Minn. Stat. § 504B.231.
Treble damages are damages that are three times the amount of actual damages that the court determines is owed to the tenant. Alternatively, the tenant can decide to take action in Housing Court in order to get an order from the court to recover possession of his or her rental property. Minn. Stat. § 504B.375.
The tenant must file a petition to the district court that includes the following: description of premises and landlord, statement of the facts and grounds that show that exclusion or removal was unlawful, and a request for possession. If the situation appears obvious that the exclusion or removal was unlawful, the court will immediately order the tenant to regain possession of the property.
Following the order, the tenant will be accompanied by an officer to the property in order to retake possession. A landlord does have the right to appeal the decision. Any order to regain possession and any decision on appeal is final.
Illegally Entering a Tenant’s Rental Property
A landlord must give a tenant “reasonable notice” (usually 24 hours) before entering the rental property for business purposes. Some examples of legitimate business reasons where a landlord must give notice include:
- to conduct maintenance
- for inspections
- to show the apartment to a new tenant
A landlord may enter an apartment without notice in cases of emergency.
A landlord who unlawfully enters a tenant’s rental property may also be found guilty of burglary. Minnesota Statute § 609.582 defines and discusses the punishments for burglary. In general, burglary is committed when someone enters a building without consent and commits a crime. In this case, the crime is of unlawful exclusion or removal is a misdemeanor. Burglary in the fourth degree is when someone enters a building without consent and with the intent to commit a misdemeanor while in the building. If guilty of this crime, a landlord may be subject to imprisonment for no more than a year or a fine of no more than $3,000, or both.
In conclusion, a landlord is prohibited from unlawfully excluding or removing a tenant for his or her rental property. A landlord unlawfully does so when he or she unlawfully enters the property to change the locks to lock out the tenant or when he or she unlawfully enters the property to turn off the utilities with the intent to exclude or remove the tenant. A tenant who has experienced such treatment can sue the landlord for damages or may take action to regain possession of the property. Furthermore, a landlord may even be guilty of burglary for unlawfully entering the tenant’s rental property.