The Understanding of Your Housing Rights

Elizabeth A. Emerson
VISTA Tenant Advocate

It goes without saying that a housing problem exists in the Twin Cites. Private landlords and tenants alike find it increasingly difficult to maintain their housing and tenants, and the housing market shows no signs of relieving either group. Sustainable housing is an important part of the housing issue. To tenants, sustainable housing assures an environment that fosters safety, stable employment and access to adequate education for both children and adults. A consistent tenant base is also important to landlords, who depend on rent for both building maintenance and personal income. Despite the importance of securing housing and tenants, the Twin Cities continue to experience difficulties with tenant turnover and obtaining adequate housing.

Understanding the basics of Landlord/Tenant law in Minnesota is not difficult, but does require some concentrated effort. However, by putting in the effort, both tenants and landlords may be able to avoid trips to Housing Court and maintain both housing and financial security. The following is a list of ten things that every landlord and tenant should know about rental housing in the state of Minnesota. (Note: This is meant only to be an introduction to housing law. If you have further questions, contact one of the organizations listed below.)

When looking for an apartment

  • View/show the available apartment.
  • Be prepared. Have copies of reference letters and know your rights. Upon request, landlords must tell you what screening agency is used. Landlords are not allowed to collect application fees unless a unit is available.

When signing a lease

  • Read the lease carefully before you sign.
  • You must be given a copy of the lease.
  • You should, and have the right to inspect the apartment. Make a list of problems, signed by both parties.
  • Terms of the lease may be changed if both parties initial the changes.
  • The landlord’s street address must be provided. A PO Box is not sufficient.

When paying rent

  • Always get a receipt for payment.
  • Pay your rent on time. If not, you will incur reasonable late charges.
  • If there is a written lease, it could say when a rent increase may occur. If not, a written notice of one month and one day must be given.


  • Tenants should know that if a roommate does not pay rent, or breaks the lease, they may be held responsible.
  • If there is a written lease, it probably outlines when a roommate may be added. It is a good idea to sign a written permission allowing new roommates.


  • Entrance to a tenant’s unit may only be for business reasons or an emergency.
  • Reasonable notice must be given to the tenant for a non-emergency visit.
  • If the landlord is unable to give notice and the tenant is not home, a written note must be left.


  • If repairs are needed, the landlord should be notified immediately.
  • If the repair is an emergency (no heat, power, water), an Emergency Tenant Remedies Action may be filed.
  • If the repair is not an emergency, written notice should be given to the landlord (tenant should keep a copy) or the city inspector may be called. If the landlord does not fix repairs within fourteen days of the letter or date set by the inspector, a Rent Escrow action may be filed.


  • Eviction may be filed if tenant does not pay rent, breaks the lease, or stays in the apartment after being given proper notice to leave.
  • If an eviction goes to court it is vital for both sides to be in court. If one party is not, the other wins by default.
  • An expungement (removing an eviction from record) may be given if: the tenant wins or settles the case, it is an old eviction that was won or settled, or it is an eviction that was filed in error.

Moving Out

  • If there is no lease, or the lease has expired, a month-to-month lease is in effect. Notice of a month and a day must be given to the tenant.
  • If the tenant wishes to move, the lease may say what notice is necessary. If it does not, notice must be a month and a day.
  • Apartment must be clean upon move-out.

Security Deposit

  • May not be used for last month’s rent.
  • Landlord must return it within 21 days, or give written explanation.
  • Landlord may not deduct for ordinary wear and tear to unit.


  • It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, disability, receipt of welfare, or having a child.
Read Up

Every Landlord’s Legal Guide, Marcia Steward et. al., 2000.

Act Locally
Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, Inc.
Contact: Southern Minnesota Legal Services

Minneapolis Housing Services

Housing Resource Center

Housing Rights

Our Sponsors