This post was written by Jeff O’Brien for Simply Residential Property Management Magazine.
It’s no secret that Minnesota’s landlord-tenant laws are weighted heavily in favor of tenants. As a result, a seemingly straightforward eviction action is fraught with legal pitfalls for an unsuspecting landlord.
Perhaps the worst provision of Minnesota landlord/tenant law pertaining to evictions is Minnesota Statute Section 504B.271, which sets forth a landlord’s obligations in dealing with a tenant’s belongings after the eviction. This law essentially requires landlords who have already lost money on non-paying tenants (by not receiving rent payments per their lease and having to pay for an eviction) to take time – and possibly additional money – to deal with an evicted tenant’s remaining belongings in a manner other than simply disposing of them.
When an evicted tenant leaves behind personal property in the leasehold premises, there are options for the landlord to deal with those belongings. The property can be moved and stored at the tenant’s expense and eventually sold or discarded. Commonly, this is done after an eviction with the assistance of the Sheriff who will be a part of the processing of the unclaimed property.
The property can be stored in the original leasehold premises. Remaining property must be inventoried on a form provided by the Sheriff. That inventory must list the tenant’s items in the landlord’s control and a description of their condition. The reason it is important to document the property present and its condition with the Sheriff present is that the landlord is liable for any damages to the property caused during moving or storage if reasonable care was not exercised under the circumstances. The form must also have the date and signature of the landlord with the contact information of a person authorized to release the property. The name and badge number of the Sheriff or deputy present must also be provided. The Sheriff will retain a copy of the inventory list and another must be sent by First Class Mail to the last known address of the tenant. Also, a good faith effort should be made to reach the tenant by telephone.
The property can also be stored off site in a storage facility of reasonable security. Any moving should be done by a licensed and bonded moving company. The moving company will likely do the inventorying for the landlord and return a copy to the Sheriff. If the property is stored off the premises, the costs of moving and storing can be charged to the tenant. Additionally, the landlord has a lien on the property if stored off-site, but not if it is stored on the premises.
Anytime prior to 28 days after the property was abandoned, the tenant can mail a letter to the landlord requesting a date and time to retrieve their property. Since the property rights are in favor of the tenant, landlords are prohibited from withholding ex-tenants’ property in lieu
of past rent, damages or other expenses, except that a landlord may apply a reasonable amount of proceeds to their costs incurred in removing, storing and caring for the tenant’s personal property.
Twenty-eight days after notice of or reasonably apparent abandonment, the landlord can sell or dispose of the unclaimed property. Two weeks prior to the sale of the property, the landlord should make a reasonable effort to contact the tenant. The landlord should personally give written notice, or send notice by certified mail with return receipt requested to the tenant’s last known address or likely living quarters if known by the landlord of the sale. The sale must also be posted in a conspicuous location at the premises.
The profits of that sale can be used to compensate the landlord for storage, back rent, damages and other debts of the tenant. After the landlord’s costs are deducted any excess profits belong to the tenant if he or she writes to request them. The profits cannot be held from the tenant as leverage for other actions because the tenant has the right to that property and the profits gained. If possession of the property is taken illegally, before the landlord could reasonably believe it was abandoned, the landlord is responsible for the costs. Also, if the premises is not abandoned and the landlord does not have reasonable belief to think so, removal of the property is considered an unlawful exclusion and will be dealt with accordingly.
Minnesota’s eviction laws are complex, frustrating and time consuming. If you are unsure of what to do when your tenant is in default of the lease, it would be money well spent to engage competent legal counsel to navigate the choppy legal waters.
Jeffrey C. O’Brien is an attorney with the Minneapolis based law firm of Lommen Abdo, P.A. and a MSBA Board Certified Real Property Specialist. He can be reached at (612) 336-9317 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.