Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-HC-17-1239
D. Van Nurden, Van Nurden Law, P.L.L.C., Minneapolis,
Minnesota (for appellant)
Elizabeth F. Sauer, Neng Vue, Central Minnesota Legal
Services, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Reyes, Presiding Judge; Schellhas,
Judge; and Jesson, Judge.
tenant is not required to follow the procedures set forth in
Minn. Stat. § 504B.385 (2016), governing a rent-escrow
action brought by a tenant, before asserting a habitability
defense pursuant to Fritz v. Warthen, 298 Minn. 54,
213 N.W.2d 339 (1973).
argues that the district court erred in affirming the
housing-court referee's determination that part of
respondent-tenant's rent was not due because tenant did
not follow the procedures set forth in Minn. Stat. §
504B.385 (2016) before asserting a habitability defense to
landlord's eviction action. We affirm.
February 2016, appellant landlord Andrew Ellis (landlord) and
respondent tenant John Doe (tenant) entered into a written
month-to-month agreement for the lease of a residential
property located in Minneapolis (the property) by tenant in
exchange for a monthly rental amount of $755.00 due on the
first day of each month. Tenant experienced habitability
problems when he took possession of the property, and
contacted landlord on several occasions about the issues.
landlord failed to complete the requested repairs, tenant
contacted a city inspector about the habitability issues. On
October 13, 2016, landlord received a notice from the City of
Minneapolis informing him that a city inspector had inspected
the property and found numerous violations of city
ordinances. The notice required him to correct the violations
within 30 days. Landlord failed to do so.
withheld rent in March 2017 after landlord failed to both
correct the ordinance violations and rid the property of a
raccoon that tenant alleged was living in the ceiling.
Landlord filed an eviction action against tenant alleging
nonpayment of $3,581.00 in rent and late fees, and sought
return of the premises. Tenant filed an answer stating that
he did not owe landlord the amount alleged and asserted a
habitability defense pursuant to Fritz v. Warthen,
298 Minn. 54, 213 N.W.2d 339 (1973), arguing that landlord
had violated the statutory covenants of habitability under
Minn. Stat. § 504B.161 (2016).
housing court held a hearing and issued an order scheduling a
trial to determine the amount of rent, if any, that tenant
owed landlord, and to address the habitability issues raised
by tenant in his answer, including landlord's failure to
complete the repairs required by the city-ordinance-violation
notice. The housing court ordered tenant to pay the withheld
rent into the court pursuant to Fritz and Minn. R.
Gen. Pract. 608, which provide that the tenant shall deposit
accruing rent with the district court as security when the
tenant claims to be withholding rent in reliance on a
defense. Tenant paid the withheld rent into the court the
receiving exhibits and hearing testimony from both parties,
the housing court issued an order discrediting landlord's
testimony and determining that tenant owed landlord $67.64 in
past-due rent. But it concluded that tenant had demonstrated
by a preponderance of the evidence that landlord had violated
the statutory covenants of habitability and noted that tenant
had suffered considerable loss of his use and enjoyment of
the property. It determined that tenant owed landlord only
part of the full ...