Basics of Residential Leasing: Minnesota Home Talk Legal Minute
The information below originally appeared as part of the Minnesota Home Talk Legal Minute. To hear an audio version, click here. You can hear my Legal Minute segments during the show every Saturday on 1500 ESPN at 7 a.m. and On Demand.
A lease is both a conveyance of the right to possession of real property and a contract under which a tenant is obligated to pay rent and the landlord is obligated to maintain the premises. The term tenancy is a lease that terminates at the end of an agreed term absent an automatic renewal clause. During the term, the landlord cannot increase the tenant’s rent, nor can he or she evict the tenant unless there has been a breach of the covenant to pay rent (Minn. Stat. §504B.291, subd. 1) or of a material term of the lease (Minn. Stat. §504B.285, subd. 1(2)) and the lease contains a right of re-entry clause. Bauer v. Knoble, 51 Minn. 358, 53 N.W. 805 (1892). Conversely, the tenant cannot terminate the lease during the term unless the tenant is constructively evicted or the landlord breaches a material covenant that would justify termination by the tenant. See Delamater v. Foreman, 184 Minn. 428, 239 N.W. 148 (1931); Colonial Court Apartments, Inc. v. Kern, 282 Minn. 533, 163 N.W. 2d 770 (1968).
Implied in each tenancy is the assurance by the landlord that he or she has the right to lease the premises and that the tenant shall enjoy the possession of the premises without disturbance from hostile claimants. A landlord implicitly promises that neither the landlord, someone acting under the landlord’s authority, nor someone with superior title will evict the tenant during the lease. This assurance is known as the covenant of quiet enjoyment. The concept of eviction can include eviction by process of law, physical ouster or constructive eviction. A tenant may be able to terminate the lease by declaring constructive eviction for breach of the covenant where disturbance from neighbors. (Colonial Court Apartments v. Kern, 282 Minn. 533, 163 N.W. 2d 770 (1968)) or significant repair problems (Rea v. Algren, 104 Minn. 316, 116 N.W. 580 (1908)) cause the tenant to vacate the premises.
A landlord is not permitted to engage in self-help eviction. Berg v. Wiley, 264 N.W. 2d 145 (Minn 1978). The unlawful detainer is a special summary proceeding created by statute that provides an alternative to the common law ejectment action. Minn. Stat. §504B.281-371. The action is for possession only and a landlord is required to bring an independent action for rent or damages. Cases involving questions of title or equity should be litigated in an ejectment action. Warnert v. MGM Properties, 262 N.W. 2d 364, 366 (Minn. Ct. App. 1985).
Residential leasing law in Minnesota is tricky, and it is always best to consult with an attorney whether it be in the preparation of the lease or when the need arises to evict a tenant.