MPR’s Bob Potter presents “The Role of the Courts in a Changing Society: Fritz vs. Warthan,” a documentary that examines landlord/tenant law in Minnesota and the court case Fritz vs. Wathan.
This is the first in a six-part series of documentary programs on the role of the courts, legislative action, and law in a changing society.
Click links below for other documentaries of series:
1979 Ohio State Award, Series category
1978 American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
Today Minnesota Public Radio presents the first in a series of programs examining selected legal problems. We want to look at how various parts of the court system react to difficult issues raised by constantly changing Society at the same time. We hope to explain a few basic legal rights and responsibilities with the disclaimer that the contents of these programs do not purport to be a complete explanation of any single legal issue in the next hour will present both legal and human perspectives on a problem which found its way into the courts. It is on the one hand a simple landlord-tenant problem and on the other a unique look at how courts and judges use their power to make new law.I know you suck but in this world.The law is a Labyrinth of constitutions statutes historical precedents power relationships human foibles and aspirations. And when the Law changes that changes the result of a complex interplay of all these structures and forces history legislators media courts, and people on the street all interactive all the way the law defines Human Relationships for instance through many centuries, the legal relations between people and Western Civilization have been defined by property relations Lord and vassal landlord and tenant owner and worker over the years. These legal relationship changed as Society has changed this program deals with one of those changes a small alteration in Minnesota is landlord tenant law. We will see how a real life situation combined with legislative action and with centuries of legal tradition to create a new rule which now influences the way multitudes of people must act toward each other and thenTake a very quick look at a few of the other rules to finding the mutual rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. All right. This court of the state of Minnesota is now in session on today's docket. We hear arguments in the case of Fritz versus worth it. Please be attentive and conduct yourselves in accordance with proper respect for the law. This is what we call the unlawful detainer calendar. Most of you are who are named as dependents have received one of these things called The Summit which is a document written in seventeenth-century English. It's understandable. Nobody but the lawyer I just want to make sure that you understand what it is and what the significance of it is and you were handed one of these sentences and says you decent what they call an unlawful detainer summons what it means in plain English landlord wants to evict you because you haven't paid your rent. Okay that covers about 95% of the cases that are here in court. So the reason you've been summoned here is that the landlord says you haven't paid your rent. How to pay the rent before we call a writ of restitution are the eviction order is made then the matter can be cured at that time. Fact if you pay the rent before you are actually evicted and if you pay up all around us to then the matter will be curating you won't be evicted. If you've already moved out, you don't care one way or another you don't have to stay here. This is not a proceeding to collect rent. This is not a collection for it. This is purely an eviction procedure. I like the situation in the building was basically one of deferred maintenance in a can of a continuously deteriorating situation in the building. We went for long periods of time without the garbage being picked up and then towards it when it became winter time. This was back in 1972. The furnace would be off periodically for a day-to-day sewing time and was over for Fridays at the furnace was off the temperature inside the building went when way down. I kept a record of some of the days that the temperature dropped and it was in his sixties and fifties inside which is pretty cold and it was the old people in the building and it was a baby in the building and is obviously a pretty serious health problem with keratin overrode the safety devices. We had a robbery in our apartment and I asked him to fix the door and they wouldn't fix that door either ever have a handle on it. And I shut it nail. It shut and I still broke it down and ask Fritz to fix it. Just like ask him to fix it 44% of the people in St. Paul are tenants Hazard 50% of Minneapolis residents and the percentage is even higher in some suburbs rental housing is scarce over 97% of the rental units in St. Paul are filled and if you want to read a single-family home in over 99% of the market is already taken experts say that occupancy rates of 92 to 93% make a type market. So the Twin Cities rental market situation reflects a national housing shortage that is sometimes described as disastrous. The National Housing conference estimates that soon five families will be competing for every for apartments and homes available in many American cities while we thought we would call the landlord and complain about it. And that was really fruitless. The landlord was it basically irrational and we got all kinds of abuse back on the phone telling us if we thought we were so good. Why didn't we move out what we living in a dump like that for that kind of stuff answer? I was always in the wrong. I mean, I wasn't hitting out didn't want to listen to what I have to say is that we were completely wrong and he was completely right. There is no middle ground at all. You couldn't you couldn't talk to the guy on any other type of basis that all Americans spend a greater proportion of their income on housing than on any other single item accept food. This is especially true of renter's the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that one-third of the renters in the country pay more than they can afford for housing a recent Harvard MIT study points out the 10 and 1/2 million tenants paid more than 25% of their income for rent in 1975 for these reasons tenancy marriage has one of the largest single identifiable consumer groups in the country. However, until recently landlord tenant law was one of the most archaic of all areas of the law until recently renters were less protected by the law than purchasers of minor consumer goods, for example, the law give a tenant very little recourse if he or she found that the rental unit was not heating properly was infested with Vermin or in some other way was not properly habitable. This was a situation in which Bob and Sheila Worthen Charlie Warner and the other residents of 709 Portland Avenue in St. Paul found themselves in the winter of 1972. I think what has every right to expect the basic amenities. Anyway, you live. I don't care what kind of rent you pay if you pay $0.10 a month. You got the right to expect at Bremen free place to live. You got the right to expect the heat if it's being supplied you got the right to expect that and you've got the right to expect the sanitary place to live finally, dated went one night when it got the furnace went off and it got really cold inside and some pipes burst in The Wharf in apartment and they were it was 1:30 in the morning the pipes burst and they had water pouring all over their apartment and it was about an inch or two deep inside their apartment and ruined all kinds of clothes and furniture and so forth and it was impossible to get Fritz out to do anything about it was because of the water in the bedroom. That was the final straw that broke the camel's back so to speak But some of the other things were rats underneath the sink a rat in my toilet when I went to the bathroom in the morning here. He's swimming and cockroaches and waterbugs and no heat. And then the final thing was the water in the basement. I mean, they're in our apartment. These people had found local housing codes to be both weekend poorly enforced so they decided to withhold their rent and try to fight it out in the courts the state of the law. I was strongly against them in one respect as soon as they withheld their rent their landlord. Dr. Wallace Fritz brought against them what's known as an unlawful detainer action legal euphemism for eviction. The idea is that since the tenant has not paid the rent. He is unlawfully detaining or holding the landlord's property to an owner of rental property time is quite literally money and the courts have always dealt sharply with such actions attended either pays the renter moves out. At the time when dr. Fritz brought an unlawful detainer action against Bob Worthen and the other tenants the state of the law was such that no mitigating circumstances were considered by the court. In other words the fact that these tenants had no heat didn't make any difference. So all the landmark Minnesota case of Fritz versus war that began in St. Paul Municipal Court with an eviction order and we kind of muddle through that evening and then and we started really getting upset about it and now organizing a Tenants Union we put up a sign that said no heat no rent and call the meeting and the organizing was working on his own deducted a portion of his rent $35 out of the $85 a week for cleaning Bill to take care of all the mass that was created and he got an unlawful detainer. You got an eviction notice notice to appear in court for an eviction proceeding and we got in touch with legal aid and And then at the next month the rest of us as I recall was the next month the rest of us all withheld are our rent. And in the meantime, we had gone to the building department and ask for an inspection gave him a list of what we thought were deficiencies and ask them to come out and inspect the building and and we were all served with with unlawful detainer eviction notices responded with a court court action and the judge wouldn't hear of it. He wouldn't hear the case and is chicken is card at all. They argued about hearing its case in his Chambers and I never did come out of his Chambers. So then mr. Kaplan decided it was time to go to the state supreme court what you did the tenants had been Consulting with attorneys from the Lark legal assistance of Ramsey County and they were pinning their hopes on a recently passed Minnesota statute that statute says quite clearly that landlords of residential dwellings must provide habitable premises for their tenants. However, the law had no teeth If a landlord did not provide a habitable building if the heat let out for example, the statute did not provide a way to force him to do so as lawyers. I want to say the lawgiver right without getting a remedy Professor Robert Stein of the University of Minnesota law school was involved in writing this and other landlord tenant legislation and he became deeply involved in the case of Fritz versus worth it. He explains the weakness of Minnesota's habitability law. The reason no remedies were set forth in the statute is that this has been a very controversial political issue with the time the statute of been considered? And rather than risk defeat of the entire concept of a covenant of habitability. The Bill's sponsors including myself decided it would be better to have the statute past and leave to the courts. The question of what remedies were available. And this question was squarely presented in the fritzl case in other words. The law was incomplete on purpose. So I just let your one of the courts to fill in the holes, but the courts must interpret the law in light of their own historical Traditions, which can often times be as important as the written law itself. For example, each of the legal framework to finding the regulations and modern landlords and tenants comes directly from the rules which Define the roles of medieval lords and vassals. In fact Professor Stein points out that Minnesota landlord tenant law by the 1960s was little changed from landlord tenant law of England hundreds of years ago. This law was strongly biased in favor of landlords. I think the reasons for this are large, Historical if one goes back to the origins of the anglo-american property law property was part of the political system in these countries and the property interest which an individual had represented his place in the feudal structure of society and tenants and effect held the land of their Lords and old the Lord certain services and duties in return for the privilege of holding a property. The as As Time changed in the feudal system disappeared and was replaced by different political system economic considerations took their place and these economic considerations caused the tennis to be treated in much the same way Landon in medieval England was largely real was composed of comprise the Farms of the the persons having tendencies in the property were very much similar in terms of of their means of the persons of whom they held the property and so the law came to recognize estate interest in these tendencies that typically continued over a long. Of time. And so the tenant was thought of his holding property much as an owner would hold it for some extended. Of years or perhaps four For his entire life for this reason the duties of repair were imposed upon Him of the person of whom he held the landlord had very few duties with respect to the property. He is interest to principal. He was a future interest the right to receive the property back at some specified time in the in the future and the tenants obligation was one to pay rent. Whatever obligations did exist in the relationship were entirely independent of one another and the failure of one party to perform his obligations didn't justify the other party from refusing to perform his obligations this gave rise to the doctrine of independent covenants, which provided that the landlords failure to do something that he'd promised to do would not in any way excuse the tenant from his obligation to pay rent in other words, even if an apartment building was not heated during a Minnesota winter. Prince could still be required to make full rent payments this situation continued largely because of the stereo decisis principal in the law stare decisis says that similar legal disputes should be decided the same way. It binds judges to decide problems in the same way those problems have been decided in the past generally the principle provides stability in the courts and predictability for people in planning your daily lives. But sometimes the principal locks judges into deciding cases in a mechanical fashion, even those social circumstances surrounding the dispute have changed substantially. I think the changed economic circumstances in the law in the relationship of landlords and tenants had substantially changed and they last several decades, but unfortunately, the the law had not yet recognized these changes and sew in 20th century post World War II America, we found that we find a situation where The typical tenancy is not a real Tennessee, but an urban tenancy the the duration of the tenancy is not one of several years, but typically a month-to-month tenancy we find great Mobility with tennis living in one building and moving frequently to another building. We find the tenants normally not having the means or the economic incentive to make permanent repairs in a building which they don't own we find several tenants living together in high-rise building so that the defective condition in their promises is not one which they can themselves correct, but which would require the combined efforts of several tenants and realistically they landlord is the only person or entity which could make the repairs that would improve the conditions of the premises. And so for all of these reasons rules that continued to treat tenancies as long-term rural residence is no longer seemed suited to contemporary times and it's for this reason that several interested individuals began to work together in the middle sixties to try to achieve some changes in the Minnesota law landlord and tenant given that background the scene was set for some novel legislation tenants groups began agitating and lobbying for changes in the late 1960s. The first bills failed in the 1969 legislature, but between 1969 and 71 sessions meetings took place between tenant groups and landlord Representatives with Professor Stein is our but the result was a package of three bills passed by the 1971 legislature. The first was the Covenant of habitability that was involved in the fritz and worth in case II was a bill dealing with retaliatory evictions and said that it was unlawful for a landlord to evict a tenant in retaliation for the tenants exercise of his legal rights under the law of Minnesota and third was a a bill which address problems did related in damage deposit first form. It provided that it would be unlawful for a landlord to wrongfully with all the damage deposit at the completion of a Tennessee and impose punitive damages on the landlord for such withholding. It was the meaning of the first of these bills. They Covenant of habitability which would be interpreted by the Supreme Court in this case. Unfortunately, it takes quite a long time for a case to be heard and decided by the court in the meantime let against such as the tenants in this case may have unique problems. Angel Darkness if the whites apartment and the landlord son while he would be listening at the door. We knew he was there listening to us talk about the building and mrs. Fritz. Attended one Uninvited and she wouldn't she was asked to leave and she wouldn't wouldn't leave and let's face it. You can't manhandle 50 some odd year old woman around so this wasn't what you can do during the summer in 1972. the landlord was apparently attempting to break up the organization by Buy some really. Well, I don't I I guess I can't really I really shouldn't really say that he was trying to do that but it seemed that he was letting the building go to hell and hoping that we would just disappear. We had a succession of caretakers that came in there. One of them was up. I mean, he look like a cartoon character of a thug. He had tattoos all over his arms and he packed a pistol and we have been trying to raise this issue to have a higher public to a into the process of of Hud dealing with the city of Saint Paul at that time had they had a responsibility that hot Department of Housing and Urban Development had a responsibility to make sure that the city's code enforcement program is operating effectively. So that did that had knew that his money was being spent well in the city, so we went to the to hide into the city code enforcement people with with our complaints and and some head inspectors came out to look at the building and they came with their clipboards in there and their suits and pointy shoes and stuff and I and the caretaker made up made his appearance. He came out twirling his gun on his finger and kind of brandishing his firearm around and kind of flexing his big huge arm muscles and he's had Cat 2 quick scribbles on her clipboard. That was really funny. But there was again and again, there were there were the deterioration that building was allowed to continue. It was just a horrible situation cops were called a couple of times and but the landlord either unwittingly or knowingly permitted that kind of thing to go on I think in the hopes that it would break our spirit and that we just say all God. This is just a lousy who wants to stay here. shaking in Lima Peru check engine came up. I got the shack. I wish I had. I got the shed. after a while, you know became a principal of sticking his thing out we had we had these really bad such a and the people in the building kind of kind of got into the idea well, Hannah had a fight. It's on fire right down on the end when I want to start. I was going to stop by finished one way or the other. I want to stay living in that place. I wanted to move out I couldn't stand it. There's no way we perceive as a rent strike. Yes, and I get a habitable what it was all about. Or like I said before the only way to know that's the only way I could deal with it. You couldn't use force on the man. He's so, what other way was there at the beginning of February 1972, but the decision of the state supreme court did not come down until November 30th 1973. We asked judge Fallon Kelly a Justice of the Minnesota state supreme court to outline the mechanics of a legal appeal process in a case. That is a fridge case. They cannot having lost a lawsuit when request is attorney to appeal it feel the attorney would then file a notice of appeal and under are rules and regulations would be required to order a transcript of the proceedings or at least that's part of the transcript has would be necessary for that particular appeal. And in addition would have to file. Hey why we call and I found some brief within a certain number of days. Play landlord in turn would be required to. file an answering brief and then they can an attorney would file a reply brief if he felt one was necessary they findings of the Court below would be incorporated by an appendix to the appellants pray for the tenants Brave. We then would normally set the case down for oral arguments. Some cases are not. Worley are you where we feel that or argument without anything to it in the fridge case or the landlord tenant case we did. Have oral arguments either end of it. And in the in the sitting across there were these seven judges in their black robes and they were doing their Supreme Court thing just like enough in the movies in our our lawyer got up and argued our points and then their lawyer got up and argued his points and and then there was rebuttal back and forth and then some questions from the the justices themselves that were pretty good questions to me and they they don't mess around in the Supreme Court and they they really try and pick the arguments a park and it was a real interesting experience to go to the state capitol and sit there and I can only being on a movie set by the time the case reach the Supreme Court the landlord. Dr. Fritz had himself given up on the litigation. It had gotten too expensive. We tried to interview. Dr. Fritz for this program, but he declined However, since he began the original litigation his name remained on the case, and since the issues involved all landlords, the Minnesota Apartment Association took up his case and stepped in to argue that the court should not depart from common-law historical practices and the privilege of landlord should not be changed the apartment association one of the law declared unconstitutional because it was inconsistent with the old traditional relations of landlords and tenants James Rosenbaum the attorney for the landlord the most conservative field of law always has been real estate law. The idea was that land since it is identifiable it exist forever Beyond whoever owns it or whoever ran said, it's important that a lot of changes not be made very fast in real estate because Banks of loan money on it because people have lived on it because buildings have a permanent and for that reason they don't like to change the laws dealing with real estate. Very fat the court heard arguments from the appellants which is what were thin and the other tenants were called because they were the ones who appealed the lower court decision. Then at her the side of the landlord who is called the up Helly AA or responded since he was responding to the appeal brought by the other side in an unusual procedure the court also heard arguments from a third-party Professor Stein. He was involved in the litigation as what's called an amicus or Friend of the Court after hearing the three arguments that asking a few questions the court retired to consider its decision just as Kelly explained what happened behind the scenes after they were like humans. they can you shove it where heard by a panel of Judges would be discussed thoroughly by the panel if it were heard and bank which means by all of the justices we then would Just passed the case in a conference and all named justice is what? participate in that conference case would normally be assigned to one Justice these assignments are made on a rotation basis and that And in any other fashion so that there's no way of knowing which judge might get a particular case. A judge who has been assigned the case. Rainsoft the discussion by explaining up then detail and stay Tuesday point then the next Justice and seniority other than the Chief Justice. When does classification viewpoint? The next person who would speak as to if that particular case would be a person who is second in seniority. And so on Down the Line until all of the justices have spoken except the Chief Justice the Chief Justice speaks last and gives his group. If name is case it is the one who has been assigned the case. Belgium and has a majority of you he likes the opinion. If not, they first Justice who takes an opposing view as they go around the table would be assigned the task of writing the majority viewpoint. after the case has been What map it done is sit around with a face sheet to all of the justices and Lantern initial are approval or a file with that K stylist app? Are a special concurring opinion if they desire on November 30th, 1973 the Minnesota Supreme Court handed down its decision in Fritz versus Warfarin as you've undoubtedly guess the tenants one in the language of the decision the Court held in part that quote these implied Covenant of habitability and the Covenant for payment of rent are mutually dependent rather than independent on quote. That means that if the landlord does not provide a habitable apartment, he shouldn't expect to get rent payments the Covenant or obligation of the tenant to pay rent cannot be invoked by the landlord unless the apartment is fit to live in is Captain reasonable repair by the landlord and is in compliance with local health and safety codes. Those are the rights established by Minnesota statute 504.18 the habitability law, which we discussed a few minutes ago what the court did here was put teeth into that law. Now the tenant has both the right and a remedy. If the apartment does not meet the standards, but then it may now take his rent check down to conciliation court instead of to his landlord, then what you got to do. You still have to pay the rent and instead of being at the Land Rover Land for the clerk of this Florida on the 8th floor and you have to write out a statement of what it is that you're complaining about and give that to the clerk and give a copy the landlord and then we can determine that question in the landlord will know what your complaint is and we'll take that up the next time this cord meat. So if you want to do that have this in mind you still have to pay the rent of a case is called you let me know if that is the problem. Do you want to get a lawyer to advise? You still want to do let me know about that when you case is called around to call the calendar. Now, that means we call the names of every Friday for every defended if you were here, please answer here so that we know because if you don't answer we will assume that you're not here and then the case will be heard as a default and we'll just go ahead and enter the order is anybody have any questions not mean that the landlord is left totally out in the cold. They further provided that the landlord can reach those assets the amounts that the tenant is paying into court for payment of his mortgage for payment of his taxes and also for necessary repairs to the property. So the net result is that the tenant wines up paying the full amount of his rent. He's just paying up to the court rather than to the landlord and to that and when the landlord can still reach some of that money to some extent doesn't change much of the landlord situation. We ask James Rosenbaum whether the rights of property were Stepped On by this decision the rights of property lot of land owners have always said this is my land. I'll do whatever I want to do with it. And my response has often been if it's your land and you can do anything you want. Why don't you try not paying taxes on it for a few years you will can do exactly with your land what the law says you can do with your land even though it's your land know the rights of property were not stepped on they were changed. And some of the concepts behind obligations of each of the parties were changed when the went when the statute went into effect on the Supreme Court heard the case. There's a an axiom in the law that says that. hard cases make bad law This is a situation where the facts I've been given understand required glaring and as a result it made for an easier to termination for the court. There are a lot of more difficult issues that could have been raised such a convenient example for instance to somebody who lives in an apartment building right now and over a short. Of time the hot water heat goes out of the hot water goes out in apartment to what extent has the tenant been damaged and to what extent does the court recognized them with the land that the tenant doesn't own or rent for that. Of time exactly like that. I don't know it's never been presented and during the time I was Al and I was renting I was extremely concerned about it. I would say that the tenant has to some extent suffered some injuries at that point since a cold shower in the morning is not my favorite way to spend time you get back once again to hook a common problem in in all fields of law. What are the damages to what extent have you not been provided with what was agreed to Provided to you and the extent or the value of the loss of that is an open kind of a question. The Supreme Court didn't for instance say a broken-down refrigerator will save the tenant or the landlord $5 day in rent. I think it's a it's put a reasonableness test in that I think we'll probably be helpful. Some guidance is provided for a chord in this type of situation by Minnesota statute number 566.25. One thing the court can do is order what's called rent abatement that uses this reasonableness test to guess at how much rennet and it should be able to keep in order to make up for partial loss of services more commonly a judge will simply order the landlord to fix things up or the tenant to do it and deduct the cost of repair from his rent. This does not mean however that a tenant can simply go ahead on his or her own and fix the problem and then deductible for the rent payment this works only if it has been ordered by a court the entire Fritz versus worth in case began Bob Wortham tried to do just that it adducted is $35 in cleaning expenses, which resulted when overhead pipes burst and filled his bedroom with water. Although he and the other tenants won the right to keep their rent from their landlord as long as the apartments were without heat. And as long as the money was paid into court the War Athens never did get that $35 back eventually the landlord got it legislation allowing a tenant to deduct repair costs from rent without a court order past the Minnesota house this year, but failed to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Of course, it is also possible for a tenant to contract with the landlord to fix up his or her own place as long as he or she gets what the law calls consideration in other words as long as they get something in return like a rent reduction. One major landlord-tenant problem unanswered in the fridge case is whether a landlord is liable. If a tenant is injured from the landlord's failure to provide habitable premises for instance. What if the tenant at 709 Portland had gotten pneumonia when the heat went out? And go with the word free. When we wake up in the morning, we could always see if there hadn't been so many other weed froze to death. If a tenant had gotten them on you should the landlord pay for the hospital bills such a responsibility is what the law calls a tort liability liability for injury or expenses with someone negligently or willfully causes to happen to another very few state courts have held that the landlord is responsible for these kinds of injuries, which happened in his building. This is a case in Minnesota. As far as tort liability is concerned the lawn Minnesota is somewhat unclear at the present time in the week. We haven't had a decision as yet which Reverse is the traditional law, which is it. The person in possession of the premises is the person responsible for the condition of the premises to persons who are injured and therefore it is essential that whoever has the burden between landlord and tenant to keep the premises and repair the tenant is well advised to make sure that there are no defective conditions because he'd be liable to anyone who's injured. I started out by saying the law was somewhat unclear. The reason it's unclear is in the Covenant of habitability in the Covenant to keep the premises and repair that was passed by the Minnesota Legislature. A subdivision was added which provide nothing contained in this section shall be construed to alter the liability of the lessor of residential premises for injury to third parties. That was put in because some members of the legislature raised questions about tort liability change resulting from the statute and the section is very neutral. It says that this section itself doesn't alter the tort liability, but it doesn't provide the tort liability Remains the Same and we now do have a covenant of repair in the state. So it it maybe the next time I case comes along the court would be prepared to say that a landlord does have a duty to keep the premises and repair in his failure to discharge that Duty would cause him to be liable and torque two persons injured. However, well tort liability maybe an important problem certainly one which will get legal attention to coming years. It is not among the four major problems of landlord-tenant relations listed by Bruce Beneke of legal aid of Ramsey County benoquin his work with this area of the law. For several years and in his view of the four biggest problem areas are evictions security deposits rent increases and substandard housing until recently a landlord was permitted to evict a tenant for any reason the fritz decision reduce that right a bit and other state laws have done likewise. For example, if your landlord is kicking you out you can at least make sure that you're told about it far enough in advance. The law requires that such notice be at least one rental. Plus one day in advance. So if you're the typical person paying rent at the beginning of each month, you must get written notice of at least a month and a day and usually you can't be kicked out in the middle of the month. Of course. This works. Both ways attended is also required to give the same courtesy to the landlord. And of course, if you feel you're being evicted for racial or similar reasons, you could have Jack on civil rights grounds in which case you should file a complaint with the appropriate civil rights Department. Sometimes used to find themselves evicted after they complain to housing authorities about substandard apartment conditions today. This is much more difficult. At least for the first 90 days after a complaint has been lost if there's any indication that attended is being evicted in retaliation for his or her exercise of some legal right that no eviction is possible within 90 days of that action, except for exceptional reasons the same protection also exists after that 90-day. But because of a statutory provision, it's much harder to prove after that time. In addition to providing such retaliatory evictions Bruce Banner key would like to see a greater check on a landlord's ability to unilaterally give an eviction notice or what is sometimes called notice to quit landlord still have a great amount of discretion in this regard unlawful detainer actions were a tissue and over 40% of the more than 15,000 filings in Hennepin County Civil Court in 1975 and similar landlord tenant disputes accounted for a large part of the 27000 filings and conciliation court that year Hennepin County judges have even had to set up a special calendar or session to handle eviction notice is exclusively. These are among the facts that lead Beneke to believe that tenant should be as secure in their Apartments as homeowners are in their houses. We feel that just like a homeowner can be evicted for nonpayment of mortgage. Well the same time will attend it should be able to be evicted for nonpayment of rent. But beyond that we feel that a tenant should have additional secure. And their occupancy and so this legislative session. We're proposing a law that in the residential context would abolish notice to quit and this law would say that tenants can be evicted from rental housing and only certain specified situations examples of these situations would be non-payment of rent where the tenant is damaging the property or the tenant is being so disorderly to in to interfere with the rights of other tenants and their enjoyment of the premises or where a tenant is violating the important provisions and the least that they have in those types of situations and there's some more we're saying in these specified situations a tenant to landlord has a right to evict a tenant but a tenant has a right to know what the reasons are and if the tenant disagrees with the facts underlying those reasons that tenant should have an opportunity to contest that in a court and have the Court decide. The bill Beneke referred to had little support in the 1977 legislative session many people see difficulty with this type of legislation it especially threatens the increasing number of landlords who rent out only one or a very few units often in the same building where they themselves live. Even Bob Worthen. The plaintiff in the fridge case is now that type of landlord but this type of person still accounts for a very small portion of the rental market and most for cause eviction legislation excludes the small landlord from its requirements Professor Stein also points out that such laws threatened to put many tenants in the uncomfortable situation of having to testify against their neighbors in court, but public housing residents already operate under these kinds of conditions and general for cause eviction legislation promises to be a controversial but increasingly popular Trend throughout the country. Next to evictions probably the biggest landlord tenant problem taken to court concerns security deposits security deposits are one of the landlord's primary protections. If a tenant runs off without paying rent or damages the apartment the landlord has some money in hand offset any losses the problem arises in deciding when and to what extent the tenant has a right to get the money back 1973 legislature established several rules in this area statute 504.20 says that after a tenant leaves and gives a forwarding address the landlord must return the deposit plus 5% interest or you must give notice in writing why the money is not being returned this year the legislature raised from two weeks to 3 the deadline for returning the deposit or making the explanation then if there is a dispute in the matter the parties can fight it out and conciliation Court Friday most significant problems. Now that law are a little bit different than what they used to be. Like the most significant problems are now that landlords are possibly unfairly keeping part of the security deposit in the sense of ordinary wear and tear do when apartment is expected and a security deposit. The landlord is not supposed to keep a security deposit for ordinary wear and tear but we see a lot of landlords interpreting ordinary wear and tear to me in a new paint job or something like that, which you got expect after living in apartment for two or three years of the pain is going to look so good anymore. Then if you says that largely the security deposit law works pretty well, but he suggested for self-protection new tenant should make a list of the condition of the apartment just before they move in possibly getting the caretaker to sign the list possibly getting photographs or verification from an independent witness. Then he says do it again just before leaving. It's important to note at this point that this is a two-way street tenants have no Freedom do abused their landlords property Beyond normal wear and tear. They are liable for any deterioration. They may have caused to their apartment in addition to not damaging the premises with the tenant does have responsibility to make sure the place is clean and if like for example, if the oven isn't cleaned out, the refrigerator is not cleaned out in the landlord has to incur expenses and getting that done pretending to be charged for it and justifiably so under the law the other two problems listed by Beneke rent increases and substandard housing are even more difficult to digest legal formulas in rules such as that which emerged from the fritz versus worth in case can only take nibbles at the problem of substandard housing long run Solutions live far beyond the power of the courts are the major lesson to be learned is the problem of substandard housing is a is a major problem that simple Can't be changed by fiddling around with the legal relationships between landlords and tenants. So these are economic problems their social problems their political problems as well as being legal problems and they you must have a a major program to to deal with them, which I think principally is Satisfied by increasing the amount of of housing available. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem likely to happen as we mentioned earlier all major studies indicate that the housing problem is getting worse in terms of both amount and quality of available space this particular problem and the others we've been discussing are certainly not peculiar to the United States housing shortages exist all over the world your up especially has dealt with this problem for decades Professor Bruno green who teaches comparative law at the University of Minnesota and Hamline law schools still owns rental property in Austria. Most countries are governed by rent control laws, which not only establish rent control, but also impose again in varying degree. duties upon the landlord which are unique perhaps as compared to the United States the idea of being that the landlord is more or less a trustee. Off the ranch that he collects and must account for them for the purpose of upkeep. Now, there are no slums in Austria in our sense. There are no slums because these properties have are maintained if the landlord doesn't maintain them. Then the city will immediately impose a an order and we'll do it itself at the expense of the landlord and we'll put a mortgage on that rent control exists in only a few parts of the United States. Although one third of Americans pay more than they can afford for rent General 8 landlords May charge as much as the market will bear in Minnesota. This is limited only when a tenant can prove that his rent was raised in retaliation for exercising a legal right? For example landlord cannot read someone's rent just because you complain to the city about a housing code violation rent control laws such as those in New York City have been criticized for driving landlords out of all together resulting in abandoned buildings on used fire traps eating away at core cities for example as much as 5% of Newark New Jersey's rental property has been abandoned but Iran control becomes a necessity in crowded urban areas where the landlord is charging rent switch the tenants cannot afford and the city is then facing the possibility of those tenants being evicted and having no place to go so that for rent control becomes a weapon, but as I recently read the Other danger that exists is abandonment. Now if if the landlord doesn't get his income he can he will abandon the property now abandonment is impossible in Austria because the state will not allow it to hold the landlord responsible for everything here. There are some states which have Provisions some some Demand only seeming off the property August Amanda Malaysian of the property. What demolition is prohibited in Austria? Because if you demolish what happens to the tenant important thing to keep in mind in any discussion of the law is the most landlords and tenants get along pretty well every month millions of people pay rent or move from one place to another without any trouble litigation occurs only for the small minority of irresponsible landlords or tenants or in areas of the law, which do not yet reflect adequate balance of power between competing interests while the problems faced in the fridge case occur all too often especially in crowded urban areas landlords will frequently face equally frustrating problems in dealing with some tenants. They have to have the rent coming in every month or cash flow is such that to miss even a single month's rent will cause severe economic problems for them. And so they're they're frequently required to take cannons with absolutely no credit check often times without knowing the circumstances. Their relationships with prior landlords or in some cases even their last name the case of Fritz versus Worthen obviously deals with just one small section of the many rules and principles governing the relations of landlords and tenants and those relations are merely the product of much broader societal forces forces, which are continually changing because of those changes the law that attempts to be flexible that flexibility is provided both by legislatures and passing statutes, like Minnesota's habitability law and by courts in interpreting those laws as in the case of Ritz versus wasn't the idea is that the two work together to ensure that the role of Law and a changing Society is Progressive sometimes as in the case of Fritz versus worth and it seems to work. However, one final irony should be noted about this case in December of 1976 a strikingly similar set of events occurred in St. Paul as winter assault of the North Country the tenants of an inner-city apartment building where up at Arms against their landlord the address 709 Portland the same building involved in the fridge case the tenants complained again, no heat in the building the landlord under attack once more. Dr. Wallace Spritz, the tenants were largely different as where the legal tools at their disposal. Unfortunately the problems of the Intercity haven't changed at all. It's tragic really that people can be that that's sad. I really do. They that they shouldn't they should know apartment buildings like that. It's like a decent billing for four people to me that they want to do is just cut your money for the tenants to make it livable. I just wanted that Almighty dollar Google Maps. I have not. Call receive. the idea of being that the landlord Is more or less a trustee? Off the wrench that he collects and must account for them for the purpose of upkeep. Play Asia. I want to start now. And I would have to say I don't think it's an unfair allegation. I think it's workable. What it does is it makes the landlord and the Tenant Sharko Partners in the living ability and get an apartment. And I think the Minnesota story has been marked by two distinctive features one the combination of landlords and tenants working together to produce the bills that have results and secondly some very sensible judgments by the Minnesota Supreme Court in interpreting these bills. Understanding how legal system goes. Anyway it just I don't think it was really fair about it is that I think they should have shouldn't have gotten any of my money at all. I think we should have had the right to keep it seems how it was voted in our favor pay for everything all the damage. and perhaps one of our attempt to write a unwritable runs. which I think is perhaps a slowly but gradually coming about and other words are many wrongs in the past. I've never been right and because we have the courts have stuck to one principle of attempted to put the principles of them. what way I never had much experience what's up in the courts before that and I think that we got a fairly certain. I think I think the right decision was made. Actually, I don't think they could don't see how they could come up with any other type of decision. Funds for this program where provided in part by grants from the Nash foundation and the Minnesota bar Foundation that program was written and produced by Bill Tilton engineering by David Carlton felland and Bill Tilton. We'd also like to acknowledge the assistance of University of Minnesota law professor, John count and KQRS radio for their assistance in preparation of this program for Minnesota Public Radio. This is Bob Potter.