Tenant challenges lower court’s entry of judgment in landlord’s favor
Citation: Maine Heights LLC v. Hayat, 2020 WL 7330598 (Minn. Ct. App. 2020)

On June 5, 2019, Mohammed Hayat (the tenant) signed a one-year lease with Maine Heights LLC (MH). On October 17, 2019, MH filed an eviction complaint, alleging that the tenant had violated the terms of the lease by failing to pay rent and that he had remained in possession of the premises receiving a notice to vacate.

The tenant asserted two defenses:

  • • that MH had violated the covenant of habitability by allowing excessive noise in common areas; and
  • • that it had evicted him in retaliation for his decision to escrow rent.

The lower court held a hearing and received evidence establishing that:

  • • the tenant had signed a lease for the period of June 1, 2019, through May 31, 2020;
  • • the tenant paid a portion of the $300 security deposit due upon signing;
  • • the lease required the tenant to pay $1,875 in rent due on the first of each month, a $150 late fee for rent not paid by the fifth of each month, and a $25 fee for each returned check or rejected electronic payment;
  • • the lease also required the tenant to pay for electric, water, sewer, and trash;
  • • in June 2019, the tenant had emailed the property manager complaining about loud noise in the common area outside his bedroom window late at night;
  • • the manager told the tenant an email would be sent to all residents to remind them of the community rules, including quiet hours—and that email was sent on July 3, 2019;
  • • the manager told the tenant that if a noise disturbance affected his peace and he had asked the people making the noise to be quiet, he was free to contact law enforcement;
  • • the tenant didn’t make any other noise complaints, but from July through September he failed to pay the rent on time or his utility fees;
  • • MH charged the tenant a late fee for each month plus $25 for a returned check; and
  • • by October 2019, the tenant had paid his base $1,875 rent for each of the previous three months, but he had not paid any of the fees, utilities, or the remainder of the security deposit.
  • • Also in October, the tenant complained to the manager about a group of people in a common area being loud and waking him up—he stated in this communication that if he didn’t hear back from the manager within a day, he would send “a letter of Default based upon Minnesota Habitability Laws and escrow [October’s] rent”;
  • • the manager told the tenant she would look into the issue and reminded him he could contact law enforcement about noise disturbances;
  • • 20 minutes after the tenant’s conversation with the manager, he emailed the manager a “notice of default”; and
  • • that same day, MH posted a termination-of-lease notice on the tenant’s door due to nonpayment of rent, constituting material noncompliance with the terms of the lease.

The lower court found that MH had acted to remedy the noise issue by emailing all residents to address the community rules regarding noise ordinances and suggesting that the tenant ask the resident to be quiet and contact law enforcement if necessary. Then, the court denied the tenant’s habitability defense, concluding that the covenant of habitability did not impose liability when the landlord cured or attempted to cure a defect within a reasonable period of time. The court also found that the tenant couldn’t assert a retaliation defense because he didn’t show by a preponderance of the evidence that he was evicted for speaking out about the alleged issue of habitability. Accordingly, the court granted MH judgment, and the tenant appealed.

DECISION: Affirmed.

The tenant couldn’t assert valid habitability and retaliation defenses.

MH “attempted to cure the alleged defect within a reasonable time, and … this remedy was effective,” so the lower court properly denied the tenant’s “habitability defense.” Also, the tenant had not “complain[ed] to any government entity and [wa]s not a tenant at will,” so a retaliation defense didn’t apply.
A Closer Look:
The termination-of-lease notice stated that the tenant’s lease would end in three days unless he paid the outstanding amount he owed. The notice also informed the tenant that if he didn’t vacate the premises or redeem his tenancy, MH would bring an eviction action against him.

Posted by: Byron King on 2/17/21 (This information is only accurate as of 2/17/21. You must contact SCR for updates and changes to this information after 2/17/21 as laws and regulations may change over time. SCR 803-772-5206 or email info at screaltors.org)