By KELLY KLEIN | Kelly Klein
Q: My roommate and I have bedbugs in our duplex. We both noticed them the day we moved in. We have no idea how they got into our unit. I let our landlord know about the bedbugs. He told me that we are responsible for the cost of extermination. Is this true?
A: Under Minnesota law, all landlords have a duty to keep the place fit, in reasonable repair and in compliance with health and safety laws, except when the disrepair or violation of health and safety laws is caused by the willful, malicious or irresponsible conduct of the tenant.
Neither your landlord nor you as the tenant can waive or modify this duty or promise in the lease. For example, the landlord cannot put a clause in the lease stating that tenants are responsible for removing bedbugs or any other infestation. If such a clause exists, it is unenforceable.
Bedbug elimination is dealt with like any other repair; your landlord must cover the expense unless the tenant intentionally, maliciously or through irresponsible conduct is at fault for the infestation. Assuming you didn’t intentionally or maliciously bring in bedbugs (difficult to do or prove) that leaves only irresponsible conduct. Minnesota courts have held that merely being the person who brought the bedbugs in doesn’t qualify as irresponsible conduct. The landlord must show that the tenant did something irresponsible, such as bringing in furniture that was infested with bedbugs. If the tenant acted irresponsibly, then the tenant pays for the bedbug removal. While landlords are required to pay for bedbug treatment, they typically are not required to pay for the loss of the tenant’s personal property unless the tenant can show the landlord was negligent.
If you have questions or need assistance, you should contact HomeLine, a tenants’ rights organization, at 612-728-5767 if you live in the metro area, or 1-866-866-3546 if you live in outstate Minnesota. If your landlord gives you an invoice for bedbug extermination, you should complete the form on HomeLine’s website (https://homelinemn.org/form-letters/response-to-invoice-for-bed-bug-treatment/), and submit it to your landlord.
Pet fees for support animals?
Q: We own some rental properties, and our lease specifies that if the renter has pets, there is a $50 monthly fee added to their rent. We have some new renters who just moved in with two cats. They showed us papers from the Humane Society stating that their cats are emotional support pets. They claim we cannot charge extra rent for their cats. Is this true?
A: The Federal Fair Housing Act requires that landlords make a “reasonable accommodation” for both service and emotional support animals, except in certain limited exceptions, such as when the animal is too large or the apartment is located in an owner-occupied building of four or fewer units. Emotional support animals may be untrained, unregistered members of several animal species, including dogs, cats, rabbits and birds, that provide some therapeutic benefit to their owners. These animals often serve as a companion for those suffering from the effects of certain mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. The problem for landlords is the occurrence of fraud regarding tenants’ emotional support animals.
Under the Fair Housing Act, a landlord has the right to ask for proper documentation from tenants to prove they are in need of their emotional support animal’s service. The document may be in the form of a letter from a mental health professional, which includes licensed therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. A family doctor is not considered a licensed mental health professional. In addition, the documented letter must be signed and printed on a mental health professional’s official letterhead. Even though your tenants showed you their cats’ certification papers from the Humane Society, you can ask your tenants for written proof from a mental health professional. Remember, you can ask for written proof of their disability, but you cannot ask your tenants about their disability or ask for their medical records.
If your new tenants’ cats are emotional support animals, you are allowed to charge a security deposit, but you may not charge extra rent or any pet-related deposit or fee. You may also seek money from your tenants for any damages caused by the cats to your rental home or apartment.
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.