Landlords in Minnesota can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Minnesota.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 17, 2021
If you’re a Minnesota renter or tenant, you have special rights when it comes to eviction. There are statutes in place that outline when and how a landlord can try to remove you from your home. If they don’t follow the law or have a reason for evicting you that’s recognized by the law, then your landlord can’t evict you.
The goal of this article is to provide an overview of how the eviction process works in Minnesota and what rights and eviction protections you have as a tenant. We’ll also cover what you can do if your landlord threatens you with an eviction and how to raise any potential defenses.
What Is Eviction?
An eviction is a legal proceeding where a property owner or landlord asks a court to remove a renter or tenant from their property. Minnesota is like many other states in that the landlord must have a legally recognized reason to bring an eviction action (formerly called an “unlawful detainer”). If the landlord doesn’t have court approval when trying to remove a tenant, then the landlord is engaging in an illegal eviction.
Who Can Be Evicted in Minnesota?
Generally speaking, an eviction requires the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship. This means there is some agreement between a property owner and renter where the renter receives the legal right to live on a piece of property in return for paying rent. This agreement is usually put into a written contract called a lease. People living with a tenant can also be subject to eviction, even if they’re not on the lease.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Minnesota?
There are three main reasons why a landlord may seek to evict a tenant. These include:
The nonpayment of rent.
Breach of the lease other than the requirement to pay rent.
Expiration or termination of the lease.
Note that the breach of the lease includes illegal activity, as Minnesota law requires all residential leases to contain language that prohibits certain illegal activities on the property.
The eviction process is largely identical no matter the reason for the eviction. But there are some differences in the amount of written notice a landlord must provide or how quickly an eviction hearing can be held. For example, if eviction occurs because of a tenant’s illegal behavior, then a landlord can get an eviction court hearing more quickly.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
Not being current with rent is probably one of the most common reasons for evictions in Minnesota. That’s because Minnesota law doesn’t provide any grace or notice periods. If the lease says rent is due on the last day of the month, the landlord can bring an eviction action the next day if the tenant hasn’t paid rent by then.
The only exceptions to this rule are if the lease or rental agreement includes a grace period or if the tenant is at will. At-will tenants don’t have a lease, so either the landlord or the tenant can terminate the tenancy at any time. For at-will tenants, the landlord must provide 14 days’ notice before filing an eviction lawsuit for nonpayment of rent.
Lease Expiration or Termination
Under normal circumstances, when the lease term ends, the tenant will move out. If they don’t, Minnesota considers them to be holdover tenants and subject to eviction. Even if the tenant is willing to pay rent and didn’t breach the lease (when there was one), that isn’t enough to give them the legal right to live on the property.
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between a lease that expires and a lease that gets terminated. With a lease expiration, the lease’s term ends without a new lease going into effect. With a lease termination, the landlord ends the lease for a particular reason, even if there was still time left on the lease. For instance, imagine your lease has a rule against subletting your apartment to someone else but you do so anyway. Your landlord could terminate your lease prematurely and evict you for this lease violation.
In the eviction process, lease expiration and termination have unique notice time requirements. The amount of notice the landlord must give is equal to the amount of time between rent payments or three months, whichever is less. So if a tenant has a week-to-week tenancy, they get at least seven days’ notice. If a tenant has a year-to-year tenancy, with rent due every six months, then the tenant gets at least three months’ notice.
The Minnesota Eviction Process
The following is a basic overview of residential evictions in Minnesota.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
The exact process landlords must follow before starting an eviction action will depend on the reason for the eviction. But the first step is typically giving the tenant notice. The notice requirements are as follows:
The nonpayment of rent: No eviction notice is required unless you’re an at-will tenant or the lease provides a notice requirement.
Breach of the lease (including illegal activity): The amount of notice will be set out by the terms of the lease.
Lease termination of expiration: The amount of time between rental payments or three months, whichever is shorter.
One unique aspect of Minnesota’s notice requirements is that it doesn’t require landlords to provide you with an opportunity to cure or address the reason for the eviction. But evictions can be costly and time-consuming for landlords, so many landlords will be willing to work with you to fix whatever problem caused them to start the eviction process. Still, landlords in Minnesota aren’t legally required to do this.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
The first step occurs when the landlord files a complaint with the district court. The complaint will contain information about the parties to the eviction lawsuit and the grounds for the eviction.
The court then issues the landlord a summons. This is like a scheduling notice telling the tenant that they’re being sued, when and where there’s a hearing, and that they must appear at the hearing to contest the lawsuit. If they don’t, a default judgment could be entered against the tenant. If this happens, the tenant will lose the eviction case because they didn’t appear in court.
For the second step, the landlord must then serve a copy of the complaint and summons on the tenant. Any individual over the age of 18 who isn’t a party to the eviction lawsuit may serve the tenant. Service must occur at least seven days before the eviction hearing date. If there are multiple tenants, each one must be served.
Ideally, the landlord will have an adult who’s not a party to the eviction lawsuit personally serve the tenant. But if the tenant can’t be found in the county, then the complaint and summons can be left with an individual “of suitable age and discretion” who lives at the tenant’s last known residence or at the property the tenant is being evicted from.
At least three days before the hearing, the landlord must file an affidavit of service with the court. This is the landlord swearing to the court that they properly served the tenant(s).
In step three, there’s the first eviction hearing. In most counties in Minnesota, this first hearing is more of an administrative proceeding. During the first hearing, the parties will try to settle their case. And if the tenant wants to file an answer to the landlord’s complaint, they’ll do so in court. If a full trial is necessary, the case will get continued to a later date and time. The continuance can be as short as a few hours or as long as a few weeks.
One thing to understand is that if the landlord is accusing the tenant of endangering the property of other residents, the first hearing can be scheduled 5-7 days after filing the eviction complaint. Otherwise, the first hearing gets scheduled 7-14 days later.
At the eviction trial, the landlord and tenant will have an opportunity to present their cases. This includes introducing evidence, including documents, photographs, and eyewitness testimony. It’s important for the tenant to appear at this hearing. If they don’t the court can issue a default judgment in favor of the landlord.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
If you have any affirmative defenses or counterclaims, you’ll want to raise them in your answer, which you can provide at the first eviction hearing. An affirmative defense is a legal defense the defendant raises that directly relates to the plaintiff’s allegations. If accepted, this defense will invalidate the landlord-plaintiff’s claims.
For instance, if the landlord is trying to evict you from your rental unit because the lease prohibits pets and you have a dog, an affirmative defense might be that your dog is a specially trained service dog that you need to keep due to the disabilities you have.
A counterclaim in an eviction proceeding is a separate legal claim that doesn’t directly relate to the landlord’s claims against you. An example of a counterclaim in an eviction might include a landlord turning off your utilities because you’re behind on rent. If this happens, you can present a counterclaim to sue your landlord for $500 or triple your actual damages, whichever is greater.
If your primary legal defense is based on non-monetary arguments, the court may require you to make a deposit with the court administrator for an amount equal to your unpaid rent. For example, if your defense to not paying rent is that your landlord wouldn’t fix your stove, then you’ll need to make this deposit with the court. If your primary legal defense relies on monetary arguments, then you probably won’t need to deposit any unpaid rent. A monetary defense might include the argument that you did pay your rent on time, but your landlord temporarily lost your check, and that’s why your rent was late.
It’s not always easy to present these defenses. But often, the hardest part is knowing they exist and understanding how to use them. So if you plan on mounting a defense to your eviction, consider speaking with a tenant’s rights lawyer. They can give you legal advice to help you better understand your situation and the legal options you have.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
Minnesota is like some other states in that it divides eviction disputes into two parts. The first part is the eviction action, which determines if the landlord is legally entitled to an eviction. If a landlord wants to recover monetary damages for things like back rent or property damage, they’ll need to file a separate lawsuit. If the claims are less than $15,000, they’ll sue you in conciliation court. If the landlord wants more than $15,000 from you, they’ll file suit in district court.
If the landlord wins their case against you in the eviction action, they’ll ask the court to grant them a Writ of Recovery of Premises and Order to Vacate (often referred to as just a Writ of Recovery). This is a legal notice telling you to move out and authorizing the sheriff’s deputy to physically remove you if you don’t leave. If you lose your eviction trial, you have 15 days to file an appeal.
If the landlord also seeks monetary damages from you and wins, they’ll get a judgment entered against you. This allows them to take steps to recover money from you.
If the landlord seeks to evict you only because of unpaid rent and wins the eviction trial, you can still “pay and stay” at the property. In other words, you can avoid eviction if you pay all of the following:
All back rent
A $5 attorney fee (if the landlord hired an attorney)
The landlord’s litigation costs
If you do this, be careful not to pay the money to the landlord outside of court. Instead, bring the funds with you to your eviction hearing.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Minnesota
The moment you get your notice of eviction and you decide to fight it, start preparing for the hearing. If you have any defenses, you’ll need evidence to support them. This means gathering any relevant documents, screenshots, videos, photographs, invoices, and receipts. It’s often a good idea to have a municipal building inspector check out your apartment before the eviction court date if one of your defenses involves the condition of the rental unit.
If you can’t make the hearing date, don’t be afraid to ask for a continuance. Minnesota law allows the court to grant a continuance of up to six days unless you and the landlord agree to a longer continuance. If you can’t show up to your hearing, there’s a good chance the landlord will win and get a default judgment.
Consider talking to your landlord about the issue leading to the eviction. Most landlords don’t want to evict their tenants. Instead, they just want their tenants to pay their rent on time, in full, and not violate any provisions of the lease. If they can get you to do this within a reasonable amount of time, they’ll often be willing to drop the eviction action against you.
This prevents you from getting kicked out and helps you find a new apartment in the future because you won’t have an eviction showing up on your rental history. Don’t forget that any agreement you reach with your landlord should be in writing and signed by both you and your landlord or property manager.
Take advantage of the available resources. Evictions are a common legal issue that many Minnesotans have faced. As a result, there are many advocacy and nonprofit groups ready to help. There’s also a wealth of information online including guidance about how to get legal and rental assistance.
Tenant Resources in Minnesota
Home Line has information for renters on the phase-out of the eviction moratorium as well as other resources for tenants facing eviction.
RentHelpMN.org also has several timely resources for emergency rental assistance options for those affected by the pandemic.