Minnesota landlords have legal rights when dealing with difficult tenants: renters who violate their lease, don’t pay rent, damage the property, or otherwise break Minnesota landlord-tenant law. The article below discusses landlord’s rights when dealing with problem renters.

Are you a tenant? Contact Homeline, a Minnesota nonprofit organization that helps residential tenants with rental problems.

Minnesota Month-to-Month Lease a.k.a. Tenancy at Will

Landlords may allow a tenant (i.e. a renter) to stay in their home after the lease (rental agreement) expires. When this occurs, the landlord and tenant have a month-to-month lease, which is called “Tenancy at Will.” Tenancy at Will is covered under Minnesota Statute section 504B.135:

Minnesota Statute section 504B.135 – Terminating Tenancy at Will

(a) A tenancy at will may be terminated by either party by giving notice in writing. The time of the notice must be at least as long as the interval between the time rent is due or three months, whichever is less.

(b) If a tenant neglects or refuses to pay rent due on a tenancy at will, the landlord may terminate the tenancy by giving the tenant 14 days notice to quit in writing.

As you can see, the statute requires landlords and tenants to give 30 days notice, but if a tenant isn’t paying rent, the landlord may terminate the tenancy by giving only 14 days notice.

Automatic Renewal of Leases is Prohibited in Minnesota

Some residential landlords have drafted lease agreements that say the lease will automatically renew for one year if the tenants fail to give them notice that they are ending the lease. Minnesota Statute section 504B.145 expressly prohibits an automatic lease renewal of over two months unless certain statutory procedures are followed:

Minnesota Statute section 504B.145 – Restriction on Automatic Renewals of Leases

Notwithstanding the provisions of any residential lease, in order to enforce any automatic renewal clause of a lease of an original term of two months or more which states, in effect, that the term shall be deemed renewed for a specified additional period of time of two months or more unless the tenant gives notice to the landlord of an intention to quit the premises at the expiration of the term due to expire, the landlord must give notice to the tenant as provided in this section. The notice must be in writing and direct the tenant’s attention to the automatic renewal provision of the lease. The notice must be served personally or mailed by certified mail at least 15 days, but not more than 30 days prior to the time that the tenant is required to furnish notice of an intention to quit.

Minnesota Renters Cannot Use a Security Deposit for Their Last Month’s Rent

Tenants may tell the landlord to use their security deposit to cover their last month’s rent. This obviously undermines the purpose for a security deposit, which is to provide the landlord with some “security” or money in case the tenant leaves the property and the property is damaged. Thus, Minnesota law protects landlords and provides a penalty for tenants who don’t pay their last month’s rent.

Minnesota Statute section 504B.178, Subdivision 8 – Withholding Rent

No tenant may withhold payment of all or any portion of rent for the last payment period of a residential rental agreement, except an oral or written month to month residential rental agreement concerning which neither the tenant nor landlord has served a notice to quit, or for the last month of a contract for deed cancellation period under section 559.21 or a mortgage foreclosure redemption period under chapter 580, 581, or 582, on the grounds that the deposit should serve as payment for the rent. Withholding all or any portion of rent for the last payment period of the residential rental agreement creates a rebuttable presumption that the tenant withheld the last payment on the grounds that the deposit should serve as payment for the rent. Any tenant who remains in violation of this subdivision after written demand and notice of this subdivision shall be liable to the landlord for the following:

(1) a penalty in an amount equal to the portion of the deposit which the landlord is entitled to withhold under subdivision 3 other than to remedy the tenant’s default in the payment of rent; and

(2) interest on the whole deposit as provided in subdivision 2, in addition to the amount of rent withheld by the tenant in violation of this subdivision.

As you can see, this Minnesota statute provides a serious penalty for tenants who fail to pay their last month’s rent. The law says that if a tenant fails to pay the last month’s rent, the law assumes that the tenant intended to have the security deposit used for the last month’s rent. After the landlord sends a written demand for payment, the tenant who fails to pay will be liable for an amount equal to the security deposit, plus interest on the deposit, plus the amount of unpaid rent.

Landlords have 21 Days to Return a Renter’s Security Deposit

Landlords are required by law to either

  1. return a renter’s security deposit or
  2. provide to the renter, in writing, a statement showing the specific reason for the withholding some or all of the deposit.

The landlord must mail this statement first-class within three weeks after the tenancy ends, as long as the renter provides a forwarding address. See Minnesota Statutes section 504B.178 subdivision 3:

Every landlord shall: within 3 weeks after termination of the tenancy . . . and after receipt of the tenant’s mailing address or delivery instructions, return the deposit to the tenant, with interest thereon as provided in subdivision 2, or furnish to the tenant a written statement showing the specific reason for the withholding of the deposit or any portion thereof.

So if a renter has not received a security deposit or written explanation within 21 days after the tenancy ended, plus a few days for mailing, then the renter should consider taking legal action to get

  1. the security deposit,
  2. a penalty equal to the security deposit, and potentially
  3. a $200 bad faith penalty, all of which a renter is entitled under Minnesota law.

See Minnesota Statutes section 504B.178 subdivision 4.

A landlord must return the entire security deposit except for an amount reasonably necessary to cover amounts owed under the lease or for damage to the property, excluding ordinary wear and tear. See Minnesota Statutes section 504B.178 subdivision 3(b).

Common Landlord Questions & Attorney Answers

Can I recover attorney’s fees from my tenant?

As a general rule, you may only recover attorney’s fees in a lawsuit if your lease specifically allows for it (this is one reason it is important to have an attorney draft your lease).

How do I calculate interest?

Interest on late rent is calculated based on the interest rate in the lease (this is one reason it is important to have an attorney draft your lease). Interest on the security deposit held by the landlord is one percent (1%). Here are the details from Minnesota Statutes section 504B.178 subdivision 2:

Any deposit of money shall not be considered received in a fiduciary capacity within the meaning of section 82.55, subdivision 26, but shall be held by the landlord for the tenant who is party to the agreement and shall bear simple noncompounded interest at the rate of three percent per annum until August 1, 2003, and one percent per annum thereafter, computed from the first day of the next month following the full payment of the deposit to the last day of the month in which the landlord, in good faith, complies with the requirements of subdivision 3 or to the date upon which judgment is entered in any civil action involving the landlord’s liability for the deposit, whichever date is earlier. Any interest amount less than $1 shall be excluded from the provisions of this section.

 Does the tenant owe the statute’s penalties for not paying the last month’s rent immediately or only after going to court?

On this point, the statute is not clear. As a practical matter, it normally does not matter because, after receiving the landlord’s notice, the tenant either (1) pays the last month’s rent so the landlord does not sue or (2) refuses to pay the last month’s rent so the landlord sues for the last month’s rent plus penalties. I would generally recommend that landlords notify the tenants of the penalties, but only seek to recover those penalties if they go to court. The reason is this: if a tenant pays the last month’s rent after the landlord gives notice of the statute, the tenant should not be liable for penalties.

Minnesota Landlord Rights Attorney

I am experienced in representing landlords and tenants in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the Twin Cities suburbs drafting Minnesota lease agreements, negotiating landlord-tenant disputes, and representing clients in lawsuits involving residential and commercial leases. I am available to meet with people facing lease disputes, analyze their lease, and explain their legal rights and options. This can usually be completed in a one-hour meeting, which can be done by phone or in the office. Usual hourly rates apply to this legal work.