Fighting landlords with the law and getting what you want

Student renters often don’t know the law, and landlords often ignore it to their own detriment.

It doesn’t take a law degree to know most cities have some kind of ordinance about the minimum temperature of human habitations, especially when people are paying rent. It doesn’t take a genius to look up Minneapolis ordinances on the Internet, and see what the standards are, and then look around to see how little those legal standards mean to local landlords.

A few days ago, another student was complaining heatedly about the cold, managing to keep warm from anger, I suppose. This student’s landlord kept saying there would be no heat until Oct. 15, like this was some kind of magic date picked by astrologists with a career sideline in heating oil. A thick quilt purchased in China allowed this student to survive in what should have been a cozy and comfortable apartment.

Is it any wonder some people must turn to communism when capitalists treat tenants this way? This student from China is only the tip of the iceberg, the situation made worse by not being in a familiar native land. But many other students have part of that same metaphorical iceberg in their apartments, too, especially during this time of year when landlords try to see how long they can get away with keeping the heat turned off.

A few phone calls, a quick spin through the Internet, (, click on “Minneapolis Ordinances”) and out popped all kinds of information, some of which you might find useful to mention, rather pointedly, to your oppressive landlord. Keep in mind Minneapolis is not unique this way. Most civilized metro areas, at least outside North Dakota, where snow caves are acceptable, have minimum standards for human habitation. Consider the scrumptious possibilities in this tantalizing sample platter of Minneapolis ordinances.

– Have a problem with the heat? Every owner Ö shall maintain a minimum temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit whenever the outside temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or below, for any continuous 24 hour period. See 244.430.

– How about hot water? Landlords must provide water not less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and of an adequate supply with normal use. See 244.330

– Confusion over bills? Landlords are supposed to make utility payments clear to tenants. If gas, water or electricity is shared by tenants, the landlord should be the bill payer and customer of record Ö unless, of course, there is some other kind of agreement in writing. Compare 244.270 to your lease situation.

– Does your landlord come into your apartment whenever the mood strikes? Take a look at 244.285, tenant to be notified of entry.

– Is paint peeling off your walls? That’s actually against the law, at least on the interior walls. See 244.510 (c). A differently worded section covers crummy exteriors. See 244.500 (1).

– Is there so much ice outside your front door that you are afraid you will fall and break your ass bone? Cushion your fall with a thick book of comforting ordinances, in particular 244.550 (d), about means of egress to be kept free of snow and ice. This applies to multiple dwellings, however.

– Is the rain leaking into your apartment? Do you buy ice cream in gallon plastic buckets so you will have something to catch the drips? See 244.520.

Yes, indeed, a quick spin through the statutes can be more fun than the menu at Hong Kong Noodle, with guidance from a person who actually knows Chinese. Another nice thing about local restaurants is you can hang out there if it’s just too cold in your kitchen. Food for thought. (Oh, my word, I ate a jellyfish. A cute, innocent jelly fish. But hey, if a creature is made out of jelly, it’s just begging me to eat it, right?)

Don’t just read a column that skims the surface of a complex body of law rather, study that body of law and seek legal advice for really bad situations. Keep in mind landlords have a lot of political and economic power, and enforcing your rights in the real world can be very difficult. Even with these ordinances, you still have to watch your ass in a cruel, unfair universe, unless you find yourself a free lawyer in your Christmas stocking. And you might feel more festive in your cold apartment, if you start putting up Christmas decorations right now.

One part of the ordinances which interests me mentions a special fund for emergency repairs. Students consistently live in bad housing, and should be getting the lion’s share of these funds. But, in the meantime, there is a City Council race in Ward 2, and now is the time in this column when, traditionally, I call out the two candidates and demand action on behalf of students. So Cam Gordon? Or shall I call you Mr. Green? Cara Letofsky? Yes, you in the donkey suit. I want to know how you’re going to help students living in crummy housing. Do you think city ordinances should be enforced? Or are you just another oppressive tool of the politically privileged running dog real estate owners, who treat students like livestock? When students vote, I hope they will remember the ice cream buckets of rain water, the cold showers when they aren’t even horny, icy front steps and landlords who aren’t worth their salt.

And, by the way, perfectly fun college parties are getting busted while armed robbers knock off a cool neighborhood store like Santana’s. Just what are the priorities of our police? OK, this part of the column is like leftovers from last week, but the leftovers are still yummy. Like jellyfish. Mmmmm, jellyfish.

Cam and Cara, I hope the two of you knock on doors this week, and students who might still have hope for capitalism and democracy wave this very column under your nose and ask just why you think you’re entitled to student votes.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected] Please send comments to [email protected]