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Central Housing Associates, LP v. Olson

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

April 9, 2018

Central Housing Associates, LP, Appellant,
v.
Aaron Olson, Respondent.

          Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-HC-17-1544

          Christopher T. Kalla, Douglass E. Turner, Hanbery & Turner, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Samuel Spaid, Paul Birnberg, HOME Line, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Worke, Judge; and Ross, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         A tenant who has not filed a tenant-remedies action under Minnesota Statutes, section 504B.395 (2016) cannot avoid a holdover, breach-of-lease eviction under section 504B.285, subdivision 1(a)(3) (2016), by claiming that the eviction resulted from the landlord's retaliatory motives.

          OPINION

          ROSS, JUDGE.

         Landlord Central Housing Associates LP notified tenant Aaron Olson that it was terminating his apartment lease on multiple grounds, including unpaid rent, unpaid utilities, and providing false information in his lease application. Olson refused to vacate and instead filed a report with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights alleging that Central Housing had discriminated against him on account of his disability, his daughter's ethnicity, and his daughter's religion. Central Housing filed an eviction complaint with the district court after Olson held over after the lease period ended. A jury found that Olson materially breached the lease but also that Central Housing retaliated against him for attempting to secure or enforce his rights. The district court reasoned that Olson was entitled to maintain possession based on a retaliatory-eviction defense available under Minnesota Statutes, section 504B.285, subdivision 2 (2016), and section 504B.441 (2016). Because that defense in section 504B.285 does not apply in an eviction action based on breach of lease, and the defense in section 504B.441 does not apply unless the tenant has filed a tenant-remedies action in the district court, we reverse and remand.

         FACTS

         Aaron Olson entered a one-year apartment lease with Central Housing Associates LP beginning May 1, 2016. On January 20, 2017, Central Housing gave Olson written notice that it was terminating his lease on February 28. The termination notice cited breaches of multiple lease terms, asserting that Olson had submitted false information in his lease application, repeatedly failed to timely meet his payment obligations under the lease, shared the unit with a personal-care attendant whose criminal record disqualifies her from residing there, and tolerated disruptive behavior. A month after receiving the notice, but before the termination date, Olson filed a report with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging that Central Housing discriminated against him. His allegations emphasized that he has a disability and that his daughter is a Muslim who wears a hijab. He alleged that Central Housing began occasionally notifying him about lease infractions only after he wrote Central Housing an email complaining that a maintenance worker verbally harassed his daughter.

         Olson refused to vacate the property, and, after the lease period ended, Central Housing filed a holdover eviction action in district court. A jury trial followed.

         The district court's draft jury instructions and special-verdict form invited a finding regarding landlord discrimination and landlord retaliation as a defense to eviction. The district court omitted the discrimination-defense references after Central Housing argued that the defense cannot apply here, but Central Housing did not object to the retaliation-defense references. The jury found that Central Housing proved that "Olson materially violated the terms of the lease." But it also found that Central Housing "retaliated against [Olson] in whole or in part as a penalty for his good faith attempt to secure or enforce rights under the lease or the laws of the State of Minnesota or the United States."

         After trial, Central Housing argued that the jury's retaliation finding is legally irrelevant because the retaliation defense does not prevent an eviction premised on breach-of-lease allegations. The district court rejected the argument as a matter of procedure, concluding that Central Housing had waived it by failing to raise it sooner, and as a matter of law, concluding ...


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