Q: When I moved into my apartment I was told that dogs were not allowed. There is now an 80-pound dog living here who is never on a leash, and the owner doesn’t pick up its huge piles of dog poop, which are everywhere. Management is aware of the dog and the mess, but allows it. Can I get out of my lease or pay my rent to escrow?
A: In every lease there are covenants of habitability that require your landlord to keep the property and all common areas fit for the use intended, in reasonable repair, energy efficient, and in compliance with all safety and health laws. You stated that your building has a “no pets allowed” policy; however, the dog could possibly be an emotional support animal. If that is the case, management is required to make a reasonable accommodation for the animal unless an exception applies. If the owner isn’t picking up after the dog or the dog is a threat to the safety and health of other tenants in the building, then management may not have to allow the emotional support animal to live there. Having dog feces outside on the property grounds is most likely not a health or safety code violation, unless it’s an exorbitant amount, or in the shared common areas inside your building.
You didn’t say how much time is left on your current lease, but if there are only a few months, you should not renew your lease but make sure to give adequate notice. If there are several months left on your lease, and you don’t like having a dog on the premises, then you need to talk to your landlord about the problem to see if they can have the dog owner keep the dog on a leash in the building and pick up the feces since there has been a complaint about it. Your landlord cannot fix the problem unless they know there is one. You should check your lease language for a buyout clause. Many leases allow tenants to break their lease early if they pay a fee to do so. If there isn’t a buyout clause, then you should tell your landlord you’d like to terminate your lease early because of the dog on the property. If it’s a desirable building, your landlord may allow you to end your lease early. If not, and you still want to file a rent escrow action, you will need to give written notice of the problem to your landlord or management, giving them 14 days to remedy it. Once the 14 days have passed, if the problem isn’t fixed, then you can file a rent escrow action in the county where you live, asking the court to terminate your lease and placing your rent, if any is owed at the time, with the court. I’m not sure if dog feces on the property would qualify as a necessary repair or a violation of any health or safety code, so your rent escrow action may not be successful. If you do work out an agreement with your landlord to terminate your lease early, make sure to get it in writing and signed by both parties.
Q: What if two tenants sign a lease and move into a rental home, then allow another person to move in and live there with them, when that extra person isn’t on the lease? This doesn’t seem legal. Are tenants permitted to let someone who isn’t on the lease move in?
A: When two tenants are living in a rental home and both are on the lease, and they let someone else move in with them, that is usually a violation or breach of their lease terms and a cause for eviction. Most leases identify the adult tenants and prohibit any additional people from moving into the property. That said, some landlords will allow it after being notified that another renter will be living there to help out with rent. Typically the landlord will then add that additional renter to the lease. Or the landlord may not care that the additional renter isn’t on the lease just so long as the rent is being paid on time. This happens often with young couples who decide to live together in one of the two separate apartments they’ve been renting. Remember, though, it is a lease violation and grounds for eviction to have another person living in the rental home or apartment without first notifying your landlord and getting their approval. If the landlord doesn’t approve it, and the tenants living there allow a friend or extra renter to move in anyway, they are at risk for eviction. Once an eviction is on your record, it makes it more difficult to rent in the future.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.