A tenant has the right to live in a home that is in reasonable repair, fit for use as a proper home, meets local housing codes and is reasonably energy efficient. The landlord has the responsibility to make sure your home is fit to live in. If your landlord does not make repairs, there are things you can do to make the landlord fix the problems. If it is not an emergency, do the things below.
If it is an emergency, call your legal aid office right away. Emergencies are things like no power, no heat, no stove or oven, no working plumbing, no hot water, or an intent-to-condemn notice.
Make a list of things that need fixing or fill out the attached repair list. Make sure you put the date on it and sign it. Keep a copy for yourself and mail it to your landlord. Send it to the address where you pay rent. If you pay rent online, the website should have a mailing address listed on it. Some judges are ok with texts and emails asking for repairs. If you send a text or email, make sure you can print them out with date and time stamp. Your landlord has 14 days to fix the problems after getting the written request from you.
You don’t have to call an inspector but if your city has housing inspectors, call them. They can back up what you put on your list. When they come, show them your list so that they do not miss anything. Ask for a copy of their report.
In Minneapolis, call 3-1-1. In St. Paul, call (651) 266-8989. In other parts of the state you can call 2-1-1, or 1- (800) 543-7709 to see if your city has a housing inspector.
Housing inspectors may find problems that you missed. If the problems are bad enough, they can condemn the building if repairs aren’t made. If problems are not emergencies, inspectors usually give landlords 30 days to fix them.
A landlord cannot evict you for asking for repairs or calling a housing inspector. But a landlord can try to evict you if you don’t pay rent because of repair problems. If you have part of your rent and a landlord tries to evict you only because you asked for repairs, you can ask the court to dismiss the eviction and “expunge” it, which means erasing it from public records. See our fact sheet Evictions.
If the landlord still does not make the repairs after you write a letter or call the inspector, file a Rent Escrow action. This means you pay your rent to the court to start a case against the landlord. The case is to get a court to order repairs. You can also use the case to make your landlord follow the things in your lease if they have been violated. You can file one if:
It has been 14 days since you sent the landlord a letter about repairs and/or other lease violations by your landlord or
A deadline given by housing inspectors has passed or the housing inspector gave the landlord too much time to make repairs.
If you have a low income, call your legal aid office. You can find yours at: http://www.lawhelpmn.org/providers-and-clinics. They can represent you, refer you to another agency, or give you advice. If you can’t get a lawyer, you can do it yourself.
Until you file your Rent Escrow action, pay your rent to the landlord as soon as the rent is due. If you do not pay, your landlord can file an eviction against you. You may have defenses because of the repair problems, but it is better and safer to use a Rent Escrow action than to defend an eviction.
There is a filing fee. If you have a low income, fill out a court fee waiver form (IFP) to ask the court to let you skip paying the fee. The court has these forms or you can create one onlineusing a step-by-step interview.
To file a Rent Escrow action, go to the county courthouse. Take with you:
a Rent Escrow Affidavit (form attached)
a copy of the written repair request you made to your landlord or the inspection orders made by the city inspector, and
all the rent due (cash, money order, or certified check). You don’t need to wait until your rent is due to file a Rent Escrow. But you must pay all the rent into court when it is due.
For example: you can file a Rent Escrow after paying your rent for the month to the landlord. Then you don’t have to pay the rent into court. But if you owe any rent when you file the Rent Escrow, you need to pay it into court when you file the case.
If you don’t pay all of the unpaid rent into court when you file a Rent Escrow, your landlord could ask the judge to evict you.
The clerk usually schedules a hearing for you within 10-14 days from when you file the Rent Escrow.
Gather evidence. Bring your evidence to the hearing. Evidence can be things like:
Photos that show the problems. Print them, label and date them for the court.
If an inspector has been to the property, go to the inspections office and get a certified copy of the Inspection Report. If the inspector knows more than is in the report, you can “subpoena” (make) them come to court. Ask the court clerk how to do this.
Print emails, text messages, and other things showing you asked the landlord to make the repairs.
Other witnesses, like a neighbor who has seen the repair problems.
For each repair problem, you want to be able to show the court:
How long it’s been a problem.
How long the landlord knew about it.
How the problem has affected you and made your life worse. Give details!
It is now June. You moved in January 1. The plumbing was bad when you moved in. You told your landlord in writing about the bad plumbing right away. The roof has leaked since March, and you told the landlord in writing as soon as it started to leak.
If you have not paid June rent, you can start a Rent Escrow case by putting the unpaid June rent into court along with the attached Rent Escrow affidavit and a copy of your letters from January and March. You can ask the judge to make the landlord fix the problems. You can also ask for some money off the rent for January and February because of the bad plumbing and a larger amount off for March, April, May and June, because of the second problem, the leaky roof.
So, out of the money you paid into court, some of it should go back to you because of the repair problems that were not fixed. Also, ask the judge to lower your future rent until the landlord makes all of the repairs.
It is important to note that the judge has a lot of power to decide how much of a rent reduction you should get. Different judges give different values to repair issues, so the amount of rent reduction can be very different depending on who decides your case or where you live.
Remember: The main point of a rent escrow case is to get repairs made, not to get rent back. This is why it is important for you to show how each problem affected you and made your life worse in the rental home. Proving how each problem made your life worse can help convince a judge to give you a rent reduction along with ordering repairs.
Repair problems are usually not a good reason to end a lease. If you leave your property and stop paying rent your landlord could take you to court. But very serious repair problems might give you the legal right to break your lease. It’s best to have a judge rule that the lease can be broken. If your repair issues are very serious, a judge might rule that you have been “constructively evicted.” That means the place is no longer fit to live in.
If this is the case, you may be able file an Emergency Tenant Remedies Act(ETRA) case against your landlord. In the ETRA case, ask the judge to say that the lease is ended. It’s best if you have a lawyer to help you with a case like that. See our fact sheet Emergency Repair Problems.
If you don’t file a Rent Escrow or an ETRA, you can sue in Conciliation Court to get rent money back. You can do this while you live there or after you move out.
In Conciliation Court, you can’t ask for repairs to be made – just for money damages. You do not need a lawyer. For evidence, it helps to have things like letters, inspection reports, and photos. See our fact sheet, Conciliation Court.