Landlords have laws on their side

Landlords are required to adhere to Minnesota’s fair housing laws.

This letter is in response to the Wednesday editorial “Strangled by the lease.” Many student-renters fail to realize that a lease for an apartment or a bedroom space is a legal contract and it is not unlike a purchase agreement to buy an automobile or a mortgage commitment on a new home. Leases in Minnesota detail the landlord’s obligation to its renters and spell out the renter’s obligations to their landlord.

While landlords generally are sympathetic to the fact that many of their student-renters do not want to pay for their leased space for the time they are away from campus, landlords face several economic realities that renters often do not understand.

Landlords have fixed financial obligations that they are required to meet throughout the year. Mortgage payments, where interest and principal payments often exceed $100,000 a month at a large property, are due 12 months a year. The wages and benefits of the management, leasing, housekeeping and maintenance team also are fixed. Costs for items such as security patrols, rental of equipment, service contracts for grounds and upkeep of the building also do not vary depending on occupancy.

A significant portion of utility costs are fixed, as well, and costs for electricity, natural gas, rubbish removal and water and sewer have grown significantly the past few years.

As for the comment that “some landlords and rental agencies even resort to the practice of refusing to accept subletters,” most reputable landlords provide written rental criteria to prospective renters that detail their rental requirements with regard to credit worthiness, criminal history and rental history. While many landlords do not allow subletting, landlords will allow prospective replacement tenants to apply for tenancy and to go through the exact same application process as current residents.

Landlords are required to adhere to Minnesota’s fair housing laws and those laws mandate that each renter be treated fairly and consistently by the landlord.

To have current residents follow a prescribed application process but to exempt subletters from that process would be a discriminatory practice. From a practical standpoint, landlords cannot allow unknown people to occupy a space in their building.

What if a subletter is a registered sex offender or has a rental history of having been evicted from previous buildings because of unruly behavior toward his or her neighbors? Landlords have a responsibility to protect their residents from this type of experience and the only way they can do so is by requiring that prospective replacement tenants to apply for tenancy and to go through the exact same application process as current residents.

The opinion published on Wednesday also urges renters to negotiate rental pricing with landlords. Again, because of the fair housing laws, if a landlord offers reduced pricing to one renter, that offer must be made to all renters, otherwise that practice would be deemed to be discriminatory. If that happens, the economics of the property do not work.

Finally, students do not have bargaining power in the form of unpaid rent.

Minnesota law does have a provision that allows renters to put their money in escrow with the district court only in cases where ongoing maintenance issues exist and the landlord has failed to adequately address those issues. The law does not allow for the withholding of rent because the renter is not happy with the amount of the rent.

Landlords encourage renters and prospective renters to read leases very carefully so they understand their obligation to their landlords. More information on the Minnesota statutes relating to the landlord and tenant obligations can be found on the Web site of the Minnesota

Attorney General’s Office at www.ag.state.mn.us.

Ken Perusek works for Great Lakes Management in Golden Valley. Please send comments to [email protected]