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Lesson for Landlords When In Doubt, File an Eviction (Reimringer v Anderson)

Aaron Reimringer, Appellant vs. Bart Anderson, Respondent – Case No. A19-2045: Appellant Reimringer (Tenant) and Respondent (Landlord) signed a residential lease for Reimringer to rent from Anderson a single-family home.  The lease called for payment of the first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit in advance. Unbeknownst to Anderson, Reimringer moved into the home without paying Anderson anything, either before moving in or since. A week later, Anderson determined Reimringer had moved in and Anderson then demanded the payments but Reimringer did not make the payment. Later, Anderson came to the property and asked Reimringer’s girlfriend for payment and, when she did not have it, Anderson required Reimringer and his family to move out of the home.  Anderson paid for Reimringer and his family to stay at a hotel for three nights and gave Reimringer an additional opportunity to make the payment, but he did not. Anderson stored Reimringer’s property in a large, locked container on the property and told Reimringer where he could find the key to gain access to the container.

Reimringer filed a petition in the District Court for possession of the property under Minn. Stat. § 504B.375 (2020) (Unlawful Exclusion or Removal) and ouster damages under Minn. Stat. § 504B.231 (2020)(treble damages and attorney fees for unlawfully and in bad faith removing or excluding a tenant from residential premises). After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court denied Reimringer’s petition, both for possession of the property and damages. The court concluded that because Reimringer had not paid any of the money required by the lease agreement, he was not a “residential tenant,” a prerequisite to his possession claim under § 504B.375. As to the damages claim, the court concluded that Reimringer did not prove that Anderson acted in bad faith, a prerequisite under the ouster statute. In finding that bad faith was not proved, the District Court noted that Anderson “provided for three nights in a hotel for Reimringer and his family and placed all personal property in a locked storage unit that was accessible to” him.

Reimringer appealed with respect to damages claim only and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court stated that the existence of bad faith was a question of fact and that the District Court had not clearly erred. The Court of Appeals held that “the District Court reasonably could have believed that Anderson acted in good faith because he was justified in not allowing Reimringer to reside on his property without paying rent or a security deposit and because he gave Reimringer three additional days in which to pay the money that ordinarily would have been due at the time of signing the lease or the beginning of the tenancy.”

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the issue presented is the requirements for a finding of “bad faith” under Minn. Stat. § 504B.231.   Landlords should watch out for this one, the failure to avail yourself to an eviction proceeding could be costly and although the Landlord won at the district court and appellate levels, if the Supreme Court finds “bad faith” here, it will be costly to the Landlord as attorney fees will run into the tens of thousands of dollars.  The lesson, when in doubt, file an eviction.

Kelly Griffitts is an experienced landlord tenant lawyer serving Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington counties in Minnesota.  Schedule an appointment with Kelly to get started or to learn more.