Resources for renters & tenant associations: Common organizing issues
Emergencies: Emergency Tenant Remedies Action
Are you or your neighbors facing an EMERGENCY repair issue that your landlord refuses to address? An emergency includes: “the loss of running water, hot water, heat, electricity, sanitary facilities, or other essential services or facilities that the landlord is responsible for providing.” If you are facing any of these circumstances, you have the right to file a court case within as little as 24 hours after notifying your landlord. This may be the best method for forcing the landlord to comply with the law. You might also consider contacting your local city hall; some cities in Minnesota have rental housing ordinances and inspectors that can assist you.
The law requires that you notify the landlord, at least 24 hours before filing at court, of your intention to file an “Emergency Tenant Remedies Action, Minnesota statute 504B.381,” if the they do not resolve the emergency situation beforehand. Because emergency repairs often affect an entire apartment building, you should consider contacting your neighbors to collectively address the emergency. All residents facing the emergency have a right to file the same action in court.
Call HOME Line if you have questions about how to file.
Individual & group responses to repairs: Rent Escrow
If your apartment is in need of repairs, you have the right to get a prompt response from your landlord. Minnesota state law provides that once you put your repair request in writing, your landlord has 14 days in which to fix the issues. If the landlord does not comply or provide a plan explaining how the issues will be addressed, you can file a Rent Escrow at your county courthouse. Call HOME Line with questions about how to file. We have a sample repair request letter that quotes the state law and provides a guide for how to fill it out.
If you and your neighbors are experiencing the same repair issues, you can all individually send similar letters and file separate Rent Escrow cases. This is a very useful strategy for getting the landlord to fix the problems; instead of getting a few angry calls, they will get numerous notices from residents stating their intent to go to court if it is not fixed—the result is that they may be more responsive to multiple threats rather than just one. If the repair issue you are facing is affecting all or almost all of the residents, consider the next tool, the Tenant Remedies Action.
Going to court as a group of tenants: Tenant Remedies Action
If numerous residents are affected by a repair issue, it might be reasonable to form a tenant association or communicate with a neighborhood group to respond to the problems. A formal tenant association with the support of the residents or a local neighborhood group are both able to file a Tenant Remedies Action 14 days after providing a repair request to the landlord. The benefit to this legal option is that the court can issue an order addressing the repairs & condition of the entire apartment, rather than individual units based on individual rent escrow actions.
If you and your neighbors are experiencing a repair issue, call HOME Line for more advice.
During the winter, apartment heating temperatures can be an issue for some Minnesota renters. Unfortunately, there is not yet a statewide heat standard for rental properties, so tenants must be aware of a number of rules that apply.
Tenant pays heat/utility bill:
If the tenant pays the bill for heating service, the Minnesota Cold Weather Rule applies.
Landlord responsible for heat/utility bill:
Tenants must rely on several legal rights—both state and local—to address heat issues if the landlord is responsible for paying the heating utility bill.
State law: Loss of heat is considered an emergency for purposes of the Emergency Tenant Remedies Action, which is described above in the repair issues section.
A tenant might be within their rights to file a Rent Escrow (see above in repair issues section) if the heat level is low enough that the rental unit no longer is “fit for the use intended by the parties.”
Local laws: Cities in Minnesota can pass rental housing ordinances further protecting tenants. Over 100 cities in Minnesota have ordinances or codes that specify heat standards for rental housing. You should check with your city if your landlord is not providing adequate heat in your rental home.
If your landlord stops paying your utility bill, and is responsible to do so under your lease, you may receive a utility shut-off notice from your utility company. These notices are usually posted on a common door of your building, or mailed to tenants. The notice will state that because there is an unpaid bill, your utility will be shut-off on a specific date. This can be a frustrating experience for tenants, but there is a Minnesota state law in place to help protect you!
If you find yourself in this situation, you have the option of paying the amount due on the current bill, and then deducting it from your rent payment. You also have the right to organize with neighbors to help pay the bill if one person cannot cover the entire bill. If you decide to pursue this option, here are some steps you should follow:
- Call the utility company to find out the amount due for the current month. If your utilities are about to be shut-off, you should have received a notice by mail or posted on a common door at your building. This notice should have the phone number for the utility company.
- Consult with your neighbors, and discuss whether one tenant can cover the amount, or whether a group of tenants can pitch in to pay.
- Give 48-hour WRITTEN notice to your landlord about your intent to pay the bill. If you give verbal notice, then you MUST follow it up with written notice within 24-hours. Be sure to keep a copy of the notice for your records.
- If the 48-hour period goes by, and the landlord has still not paid, you may then pay the bill.
- Be sure to get a receipt for the amount paid for the utility.
- Deduct the amount you paid from your rent total, and pay your landlord the reduced amount. Include a copy of the utility receipt, so that you can show you did pay the bill.
HOME Line partners with a number of state and national organizations working to preserve and promote affordable housing.
- Housing Preservation Project (HPP)
- Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless
- Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP)
- Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA)
- Family & Children’s Service (FCS)
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- Department of Agriculture, Rural Development (USDA / RD)
- National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)
- Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)
- National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF)
- National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT)
- National Housing Law Project (NHLP)