Minneapolis expansion countdown: 1 day — #1 most often asked advice: Repairs

by Eric Hauge on March 31, 2014

1With expansion of our free tenant hotline service to all Minneapolis renters only 1 day away, we’re sharing information and advice on the top 5 issues renters call us about. Minneapolis renters will soon have access to this wealth of legal knowledge and practical advice stemming from 22 years of providing legal advocacy services to renters across Minnesota. More info about our Minneapolis expansion is here.

Today we’ll be sharing information about our 3rd-most commonly called-about issue: Repairs

Today’s topic: Repairs

Question: Something in my unit is broken or isn’t working. How can I get it fixed? The landlord won’t respond to me.

Answer: A landlord failing to make repairs is the #1 reason tenants call HOME Line; in 2013, we advised over 2,100 renter households on this issue. Landlords are required under state law, regardless of what a lease might say, to: 1) maintain the unit so it is compliant with all state and local safety and health codes, 2) keep the unit in reasonable repair, and 3) keep the unit “fit for the use intended” (aka, in a condition to allow a tenant to use the rental unit as they planned to—for sleeping, eating, bathing, storing personal items, and general daily living activities, etc.).

The landlord is not required to make repairs to damages caused by “the irresponsible, willful or malicious conduct of the tenant,” which means that the issues a tenant brings up must be due to normal wear and tear on the apartment.

Our initial advice in most of these cases is that the tenant needs to inform the landlord about the repair issue in writing—it really is what initiates the tenant’s rights. While making a phone call or going to talk to the management about an issues seems like common sense, it does not create a “paper trail” of the tenants attempt to get repairs complete, meaning the landlord may have an easier time ignoring it. Here is a link to our most popular form letter, a Repair Request form, that can be used to inform the landlord about a repair problem while also stating the rights and responsibilities of the tenant and landlord. When filling out the form, make sure to be clear about what the problem is and what exactly you want the landlord to do to fix the problem. Once the form is complete, make a copy for your own records and send the original to the landlord (or drop it off where you drop your rent). In many cases, notifying the landlord along with the threat of potential court action is enough to urge the landlord to complete the repairs.

After two weeks (14 days) since submitting a Repair Request form, if the landlord doesn’t solve the problem, the tenant can file a court case called a Rent Escrow using the form letter they filled out.  We strongly advise that tenants call HOME Line at this point before filing to figure out how to maximize their chances in court.

As an alternative or additional avenue for addressing repairs: Many cities in Minnesota have housing or rental inspection departments that, depending on the city’s code of ordinances, can inspect rental units for certain levels of health and safety violations. Inspectors will frequently write up a report identifying specific repairs that the landlord must complete, along with a deadline for completion. While an inspectors report may carry a great deal of influence with both a landlord and a judge if it ends up in court, not all cities have the strongest rental codes/ordinances and the timeline an inspector provides to the landlord may be longer than the Rent Escrow process. There are other pros and cons of contacting an inspector; call HOME Line if you have questions.

For advice about a situation similar to this that you, a family member, or a friend is facing, please contact our hotline directly: 612-728-5767 or email an attorney here. Minneapolis renters can learn more about our expansion here.

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