Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Minnesota

If you're a renter getting evicted in Minnesota, you need to learn if you have legal grounds to fight your eviction. Here's how.

In Minnesota, a landlord can evict a tenant for several different reasons, the most common of which are failing to pay rent or violating the lease or rental agreement. A tenant facing eviction for one of these reasons may be able to challenge the eviction and delay the proceedings or stop the eviction altogether.

This article examines the most common grounds for eviction in Minnesota, along with some of the most common defenses available.

Evictions in Minnesota

The landlord-tenant relationship is regulated by statute in the state of Minnesota. Minnesota statutes set forth all the rules landlords and tenants must follow when renting a property, including when and how to evict a tenant. Unlike most states, Minnesota does not require a landlord to provide notice to a tenant before filing an eviction lawsuit with the court. As soon as the tenant commits an act that can lead to eviction, the landlord can file the eviction lawsuit. The most common reasons for eviction are failing to pay rent or violating the lease.

Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent

The most common reason for eviction in Minnesota is a tenant failing to pay rent. As soon as rent is late, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with the court. The landlord is not required to give any other kind of notice to the tenant before filing the lawsuit. The tenant can stop the eviction lawsuit at any time before the actual eviction occurs by paying the rent, with interest, court costs, and attorney’s fees (see Minn. Stat. Ann. § 504B.291).

Eviction for Violating the Lease

Another common reason for eviction is a tenant violating the lease or rental agreement. A landlord can file an eviction lawsuit as soon as the violation occurs. Like an eviction for nonpayment of rent, the landlord is not required to give the tenant any kind of notice before filing the eviction lawsuit. The landlord is also not required to give the tenant any time to fix the lease violation (see Minn. Stat. Ann. § 504B.285).

Examples of lease violations include having a dog when no pets are allowed or having unauthorized people living in an apartment.

Eviction Process

To begin an eviction lawsuit, a landlord must file a summons and complaint with the district court of the county in which the rental property is located. The court will set a date and time for a hearing to take place before a judge and put that information on the summons. Then a copy of the complaint and summons will be served upon the tenant. If the tenant wishes to challenge the eviction, the tenant must appear at the hearing. If the tenant does not appear, the judge will likely rule in the landlord’s favor and the eviction will occur. At the hearing, the judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and then make a final decision regarding the eviction (see Minn. Stat. Ann. § § 504B.321–345).

The tenant may find that challenging the eviction is not always the best option. The tenant might have to pay the landlord’s court and attorney’s fees if unsuccessful in court. The tenant could also receive a negative credit rating and could be turned down for future housing. The best option for the tenant might be to try to talk to the landlord and negotiate a deal outside the court system. Many communities have free or low-cost mediation services that handle landlord-tenant disputes; local resources are available through the website mediate.com and the American Arbitration Association. The mediation faqs on the Nolo site provide more information on the subject.

Eviction Defenses in Minnesota

A tenant may have at least one defense available if facing eviction because of failing to pay rent or violating the lease.

Landlord Unlawfully Ousts Tenant

The only way a landlord can evict a tenant is by receiving a judgment from the court allowing the eviction to occur. It is illegal for a landlord to try to evict a tenant through any other means, such as changing the locks at the rental unit or turning off the utilities. This is sometimes called a “self-help” eviction, or unlawful ouster. Minnesota law makes this kind of action a misdemeanor, and a tenant can sue a landlord who attempts to illegally evict a tenant in this manner (see Minn. Stat. Ann. § § 504B.221, 504B.225, 540B.231, and 540B.375). For more information, see the article Nolo has published entitled Illegal Eviction Procedures in Minnesota.

Landlord Evicts Tenant for Not Paying Rent

A tenant who is being evicted for not paying rent may have at least one defense available.

Tenant Paid Rent in Full

Although a landlord is not required to give a tenant notice before filing the eviction lawsuit, the tenant can still stop the eviction by paying rent in full, plus court costs and attorney’s fees, at any time before the eviction actually occurs. The tenant can either pay the landlord directly or pay the rent to the court, which will then pay the landlord. If the tenant chooses to pay the landlord directly, the tenant should pay with a money order or ask for a time-stamped receipt. This way, if the landlord continues with the eviction, the tenant has proof that the rent was paid during the appropriate time period (see Minn. Stat. Ann. § 504B.291).

Landlord Did Not Maintain the Rental Unit

A landlord with rental property in Minnesota is required to maintain that rental property according to standards set forth by Minnesota statute. This means the landlord must:

  • keep the premises fit for the intended use of the tenants
  • keep the premises in good repair
  • keep the premises energy efficient by installing weather stripping, caulking, storm windows, and storm doors when applicable, and
  • comply with all applicable health and safety codes.

See Minn. Stat. Ann. § 504B.161.

If the rental unit needs repair or maintenance in one of the areas described above, the tenant must give the landlord a written notice that states the landlord has 14 days to make the repairs or maintenance (see Minn. Stat. Ann. § 504B.385(1)(c)). If the landlord does not make the repairs or necessary maintenance, the tenant must turn to the court for relief.

The tenant can bring an emergency petition before the court in cases of no running water, hot water, heat, electricity, or another essential service (see Minn. Stat. Ann. § 504B.381). In all other cases, the tenant can bring a rent escrow action before the court. This means that the tenant can stop paying rent to the landlord and instead deposit rent into an escrow account with the court, until the landlord makes the necessary repairs (see Minn. Stat. Ann. § 504B.385).

If the landlord tries to evict the tenant for failing to pay rent, the tenant can challenge the eviction by showing evidence that the landlord did not maintain the rental unit and that the tenant has established an escrow account with the court. For more information on the topic, see the Nolo article Minnesota Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or “Repair and Deduct.”

Landlord Evicts the Tenant for Discriminatory Reasons

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (including children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), and disability. In addition, the Minnesota Human Rights Act also makes it illegal to discriminate against a person based on creed, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, or sexual orientation. City ordinance in St. Paul also makes it illegal to discriminate against someone based on age. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant based on any of these characteristics, the tenant can use the discrimination as a defense to the eviction. See the Nolo article Housing Discrimination Prohibited by State and Local Law for more on laws prohibiting discrimination against tenants.

Additional Resources for Tenants in Minnesota

Minnesota has several legal aid organizations that provide help to those who qualify based on income, includingMid-Minnesota Legal Aid and Central Minnesota Legal Services. The Minnesota Department of Human Services also provides some online resources related to housing issues. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.

Finding Your Local Courthouse

Eviction cases are filed with the district court of the county in which the rental property is located. The Minnesota Judicial Branch maintains an online directory for you to easily find the district you reside in. The Minnesota Judicial Branch also provides an online self-help center that provides information related to landlord-tenant issues. In addition, some of the district courts provide online information relating to eviction actions specific to their district, including the First District (serving the Southern Twin Cities Metro and Rural Areas) and the Fourth District (servicing Hennepin County).

When to Hire an Experienced Lawyer

If you have more specific legal questions about your eviction case or the landlord has already retained a lawyer, you should probably also contact a lawyer. A lawyer can handle the whole case or give you advice on how to proceed. A lawyer can also let you know how likely you are to win your case. You may especially want to hire an attorney if you are confident of your case and your lease or rental agreement entitles you to attorney fees if you win in court.

For advice on finding a good lawyer, see the Nolo article How to Find an Excellent Lawyer.

Also check out Nolo’s Lawyer Directory for Minnesota lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.

More Information on Evictions and Terminations

For more articles on the subject, see the Evictions and Terminations section of Nolo.com. If you want to learn about how tenant bankruptcy affects an eviction, see the Nolo article Bankrupt Tenants.

For more information on tenant rights, see Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).

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