ST. PAUL (AP) -- Property owners are worried about the implications of a Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that said landlords who accept late rent money from tenants can't evict renters for tardy payments.
"There's a dilemma for a landlord in forgiving a tenant's behavior," said Doug Carney, an attorney who represents several Minnesota property owners. "You're penalized for being tolerant."
On Tuesday, the appeals court reversed a Hennepin County court's decision in the case of a disabled Edina woman who was late with her rent 17 times in five years.
A Hennepin County judge ruled that the late payment violated the lease agreement and that eviction proceedings were legal, but the higher court ruled the landlord waived the right to evict Tracey Brewington by accepting her late rent and failing to tell her she faced eviction if she continued to turn her money in past the due date.
"The decision gives both sides a sense of security and what to expect," said Sherry Bruckner, an attorney for Brewington. "The fact that a tenant could be evicted for late payment of rent should encourage all tenants to read their leases carefully about when rent is due."
Landlords, however, expressed disappointment in the court and are being advised by attorneys to rewrite leases to get around the waiver.
The appeals court also ruled that in cases where renters receive federal aid -- as Brewington does -- the landlord has the additional burden of showing that late rent disrupted the livability of the area, posed a safety threat, interfered with management or hurt the financial stability of the project in order to evict a tenant.
For five years, Brewington and her three daughters have lived in Oak Glen of Edina, a 64-unit town-home rental property that includes some government-subsidized housing. During that time, property managers alleged in court, Brewington violated a pet policy and other rules in the lease.
But it was the repeated late rent payments that the district court judge relied on as grounds to evict her.
The case will be sent back to Hennepin County, and the landlord must prove other contract breaches to evict her.
Michael Kallas, an attorney for Oak Glen, said the appeals decision was disappointing, but not shocking.
There are still options for landlords to protect themselves, he said. "The safest route would be to stop accepting any payment after a default that could lead to an eviction," Kallas said.
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