Ramsey County District Court File No. 62HGCV12344.
Hans Erik Larson, Stillwater, Minnesota (for respondent)
Carla B. Paul, Winnipeg, Manitoba (pro se appellant)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Stauber, Judge; and Willis, Judge. [*]
On appeal in this landlord-tenant dispute, appellant-landlord argues that the district court erred by granting respondent-tenant's rent escrow action under Minn. Stat. § 504B.385 (2012). Because the statute was properly applied and the findings of fact are supported by the record, we affirm.
In October 2011, pro se appellant Carla Paul and respondent Brooke Ryan Dean entered into a residential lease agreement (the lease) whereby respondent agreed to rent from appellant residential property located in St. Paul, (the property) from December 1, 2011, to May 30, 2012. Under the terms of the lease, appellant was required to make all necessary repairs, keep the premises up to code, and insure that the property was habitable.
Respondent took possession of the property on December 4, 2011. At that time, respondent sent appellant an e-mail complaining that the house was not clean, that it smelled of cat urine, and that several things needed "attention: the shower head in the basement is broken and needs [to be] replaced, smoke alarm needs [to be] put back together in upstairs hallway, door knobs need [to be] tightened, mold in basement windows needs [to be] treated, [and] floor in basement's coming up near back right bedroom."
Appellant viewed the property on December 10, at which time respondent showed her some of the mold. A few weeks later, respondent was apprised of additional areas of mold in the house after a plumber opened a crawl space to repair a pipe. Respondent also notified appellant of the extent of the mold problem. Appellant failed to remediate the mold problem and did not install working smoke detectors.
Respondent moved out of the property on January 20, 2012, due to an allergy to mold and could not "stand living in that house any longer with the smell." Three days later, an inspection for Renewal of Fire Certificate of Occupancy was conducted by Inspector Rick Gavin. During the inspection, 18 deficiencies were noted at the property, citing 31 specific code violations, including mold damage in the basement and uninstalled smoke detectors.
On February 1, 2012, respondent brought a rent-escrow action against appellant in housing court seeking to address violations of certain lease covenants as well as lease violations under Minn. Stat. § 504B.385. At the hearing on February 16, evidence and testimony was admitted establishing that the previous tenants informed appellant of the existence of mold and that the property lacked operable smoke detectors. Moreover, respondent testified that at the time of the hearing, appellant had made no attempt to install smoke-detectors, and that mold is still present in the house.
Following the hearing, the referee found that respondent and the previous tenants made appellant aware of the property's lack of smoke detectors and the existence of mold. The referee also found that appellant failed to take steps to repair or install smoke detectors or remediate the mold problem. The referee concluded that such failures constituted a breach of the terms of the lease, as well as specific covenants set forth under Minn. Stat. § 504B.161 (2012). The referee ordered that (1) the lease be terminated; (2) $2, 800 in rent placed in escrow be returned to respondent; (3) ...