March 6th, 2019 the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a landlord-tenant decision related to habitability of residential rental real estate. Minnesota’s residential landlord-tenant statute requires that landlords keep a residential rental property in a habitable condition. The statute allows a tenant to initiate a rent escrow lawsuit if a landlord does not keep the property in a habitable condition. Some landlord-tenant law practitioners have argued that this statutory rent escrow scheme was the only way a tenant could withhold rent because of habitability problems with the property. The Minnesota Supreme Court’s latest decision allows tenants to raise habitability problems as a defense to a landlord’s eviction for non-payment of rent. So, if a tenant believes a landlord has violated its obligation to keep a property habitable, the tenant can withhold rent. If a tenant does that – and the eviction court agrees with the tenant’s withholding reasons and amounts – then a landlord will likely lose its eviction case. This case appears to be a victory for tenant rights advocates.
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