Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Ellis v. Doe

Supreme Court of Minnesota

March 6, 2019

Andrew Ellis, Appellant,
v.
John Doe, Respondent.

          Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Joel D. Van Nurden, Van Nurden Law, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and John R. Shoemaker, Shoemaker & Shoemaker, P.L.L.C., Bloomington, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Elizabeth F. Sauer, Central Minnesota Legal Services, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.

          David Y. Trevor, Tiana Towns, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Samuel Spaid, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae HOME Line.

          Bruce Jones, Michael F. Cockson, James W. Poradek, Isaac B. Hall, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amici curiae Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, CHUM, Family Housing Fund, Housing Justice Center, Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia, Jewish Community Action, Loaves and Fishes Duluth, The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, Northpoint Health and Wellness Center, Inc., and Volunteer Lawyers Network.

         SYLLABUS

         1. A tenant need not follow the procedures for an action under the rent-escrow statute, Minnesota Statutes section 504B.385 (2018), when asserting a common-law habitability defense in an eviction action.

         2. A tenant need not provide written notice of violations of the covenants of habitability to a landlord before asserting a common-law habitability defense in an eviction action.

          OPINION

          CHUTICH, JUSTICE.

         Appellant Andrew Ellis initiated eviction proceedings against his tenant, John Doe, for nonpayment of rent.[1] The tenant raised a common-law habitability defense, asserting that Ellis had breached the covenants of habitability. The district court found for the tenant and ordered retroactive and prospective rent abatement until the habitability violations were fixed. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision.

         Ellis now asks us to reverse, asserting that the tenant did not follow the procedures for a rent-escrow action under Minnesota Statutes section 504B.385 (2018), which require written notice to the landlord before initiating an action for breach of the covenants of habitability. We conclude that a tenant asserting a common-law habitability defense in an eviction proceeding is not required to follow the procedures for an action under the rent-escrow statute. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

         FACTS

         Ellis is the owner and landlord of a duplex in Minneapolis. The tenant rented a unit in the duplex in February 2016 under a written month-to-month lease. The apartment had ongoing repair issues, and the tenant later testified in an eviction action that he contacted Ellis about those issues "on several occasions"-enough times that Ellis got tired of him calling. He further testified that he sent Ellis "a letter in regards to the different issues that we had."

         After five months passed without Ellis making repairs, the tenant called the city inspector. When the inspector came to inspect the apartment in October 2016, the tenant met with him and discussed several issues, including damage to the bathroom floor, kitchen cabinets, and bedroom ceiling from a water leak; cracks in the walls; peeling paint; broken window seals; and windows that were painted or glued shut. While the inspector was there, the tenant and the inspector could hear an animal running through the ceiling and scratching at the walls. The tenant also pointed out the front door entrance to the duplex, which did not lock and barely closed. He showed the inspector the back stairs, which were held together by a cord, and the side rail on the front stairs, which was weakly attached to the stairs.

         In October 2016, the city inspector sent Ellis a notice of ordinance code violations, which required Ellis to make numerous repairs within the next month. Specifically, the notice required Ellis to (1) repair the windows that were painted shut and the windows that would not stay open; (2) repair or replace the handrail for the front stairs; (3) repair the front entry door; (4) identify and fix the source of the moisture problem, as well as repair all water-damaged surfaces; (5) repair the peeling paint in the kitchen; (6) replace the non-functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; (7) repair the rear exterior stairs, which were in unstable condition and lacked a useable handrail; (8) replace a torn window screen; and (9) replace two broken window panes and one missing pane.

         In March 2017, Ellis filed an eviction action under Minnesota Statutes section 504B.291 (2018), alleging nonpayment of $3, 581 in rent. The tenant acknowledged that he had withheld rent for the month of March and deposited the unpaid rent for the months of March and April 2017 with the court administrator. On March 20, 2017, the tenant filed an answer denying Ellis's allegations and raising the common-law defense of breach of the statutory covenants of habitability. See Minn. Stat. § 504B.161, subds. 1, 4 (2018).

         The parties appeared before the housing court referee. Both parties submitted exhibits and testimony. Both parties also testified, and so did the tenant's mother. The referee found the testimony of the tenant and his mother to be more credible than Ellis's testimony. In evaluating Ellis's nonpayment-of-rent claim, the referee found that the tenant had actually overpaid his rent for 2016 and only owed rent in the amount of $67.64 as of February 2017.

         The referee then turned to the tenant's habitability defense. Based on the tenant's testimony, the photographs of the unit offered as exhibits, and the city inspector's report, the court found that "the condition of the premises violated the statutory covenants of habitability." Although Ellis testified that he had addressed all of the issues in the city inspector's letter, the referee found Ellis's testimony "untrustworthy" and noted that he "was unable to answer very basic questions about the interactions of the parties." The referee found that the tenant was entitled to retroactive and ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.