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Rush v. The Westwood Village Partnership

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 5, 2016

Stephanie Rush, et al., Appellants
The Westwood Village Partnership, et al., Respondents and Jerry Plummer, et al., Appellants
Riverside Apartments of St. Cloud Limited Partnership, et al., Respondents

         Benton County District Court File Nos. 05-CV-15-2075, 05-CV-15-1887


          Mark Iris, Doug Clark, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, St. Cloud, Minnesota (for appellants).

          Gerald W. Von Korff, John J. Meuers, Rinke Noonan, St. Cloud, Minnesota (for respondents).

          Considered and decided by Reilly, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Johnson, Judge.


         Minnesota Statutes section 504B.161, subdivision 1(a)(2) (2014), imposing a covenant of reasonable repair upon the landlord of residential premises, does not extend to a tenant's personal property. Minnesota Statutes section 504B.161, subdivision 1(a)(1) (2014), recognizing the covenant to ensure that a residential premises is fit for its intended use, does not impose a duty on a landlord to employ a tenant's chosen method of pest eradication.


          REILLY, Judge.

         In these consolidated appeals after separate court trials, appellant-tenants challenge the district court's denial of their rent-escrow actions under Minnesota Statutes section 504B.161 (2014). The questions presented are: (1) whether a landlord breaches the covenant of reasonable repair by requiring a residential tenant to cooperate with pest eradication efforts and (2) whether a landlord commits a per se breach of the covenant to ensure that a residential premises is fit for its intended use by electing one method of repair over the tenant's preferred method. We conclude that section 504B.161, subdivision 1(a), neither compels a landlord to bear the costs of the tenant's personal property damaged by pest eradication nor requires the landlord to pay for the tenant's preferred repair method, and we therefore affirm the district court's denial of the rent-escrow actions.


         St. Cloud Housing and Redevelopment Authority Pest-Control Policy

         St. Cloud Housing and Redevelopment Authority (the HRA) is the owner and property manager of the Westwood Village and Riverside apartment complexes. The HRA adopted a Pest-Infestation Policy to control bedbug infestations in its units, including apartments located in Westwood Village and Riverside. The policy contemplates using chemical treatments to control bedbug infestations. The HRA developed a bedbug checklist providing instructions on how to prepare an apartment for chemical treatment. The checklist advises the tenant to wash bedding and clothing; store certain items in plastic bags or storage bins; vacuum and wash floors; throw away trash; provide access to walls, closets, and areas around furniture; and discard box springs, mattresses, and upholstered furniture. The HRA does not assist tenants in completing the checklist nor does it compensate tenants for the cost of their discarded personal property or costs associated with preparing an apartment for treatment. Pest control is addressed in a lease addendum, which states that the tenant and the HRA "must work together to prevent and eliminate the infestation of bedbugs." The lease addendum provides that the HRA will "prevent and eliminate" bedbugs at the HRA's expense, although it places an obligation on the tenant to "cooperate with the [the HRA]" by allowing reasonable access for inspections, preparing an apartment for treatment, and "disposing of property which may be the source [of] the infestation or which may serve as a home for pests."

         The HRA engages the services of a pest-control company to treat bedbug infestations in residential apartments. The pest-control company offers two types of treatments: a chemical-only treatment and a heat treatment. The heat treatment is a one-day process during which technicians heat an apartment to over 120 degrees for at least five hours; chemical treatments of the perimeter of the apartment precede and follow the heating. The heat treatment costs an average of $1, 100 to $1, 500 per apartment. The chemical-only treatment is described as an "intensive first treatment" with a chemical spray, with follow-up chemical treatments at two and four weeks after the initial treatment. The insecticide used in the chemical treatment has a residual effect that continues to kill bedbugs for several weeks after treatment. The average cost of the chemical-only treatment is $400. The success rate for eradicating bedbugs from a premises is the same for both treatment methods.

         Stephanie Rush and Margaret Domeier

         Stephanie Rush and Margaret Domeier lease an apartment from the HRA in Westwood Village. Rush discovered bedbugs in the apartment in September 2015 and reported the infestation to the property manager, who provided Rush and Domeier with a bedbug checklist to prepare the apartment for treatment. The property manager stated that the HRA would cover the cost of a chemical-only treatment at no expense to Rush and Domeier. Rush and Domeier requested a heat treatment, which the HRA declined to provide on the ground that it was more expensive. Rush and Domeier agreed to go forward with the chemical-only treatment. They prepared for the first chemical application by moving some of their belongings to storage; cleaning the apartment; and discarding mattresses, electronics, furniture, and other personal belongings. The HRA engaged a pest-control company to treat Rush and Domeier's apartment for the bedbug infestation; chemical treatments were applied on October 6, October 20, and November 3. Rush testified that she had not seen any bedbugs in the apartment since the November 3 chemical treatment was completed. Following the first chemical treatment, Rush and Domeier filed an Affidavit of Rent Escrow requesting heat treatment or, alternatively, seeking monetary compensation for their discarded personal property and consequential damages.

         Jerry and ...

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